NCMA, N.C. Governor Honor Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon has been named the winner of the H. Clay Earles Award. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo)
Jeff Gordon has been named the winner of the H. Clay Earles Award. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo)
Jeff Gordon has been named the winner of the H. Clay Earles Award. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo)

CONCORD, N.C. — Jeff Gordon was the guest of honor during Wednesday night’s 10th annual North Carolina Motorsports Industry Awards Ceremony presented by Fifth Third Bank at the Embassy Suites Hotel here.

More than 400 members of the motorsports industry and several special and unannounced guests were on hand to honor Gordon with the organization’s annual Achievement In Motorsport Tribute Award.

While the recipient of the Achievement in Motorsports award is traditionally presented at the end of the program, Gordon was called to the stage early in the festivities to receive one of the state of North Carolina’s highest honors.

Governor Pat McCrory was in attendance to present Gordon with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. McCrory said Gordon was receiving the state’s highest award “for all he has done, not just for racing, but for the state of North Carolina.”

“I am not deserving of this award,” said Gordon, who was born in California and raised in Indiana. “North Carolina means so much to me, but I wasn’t born here. I remember the first time I came here — I got a speeding ticket. I was coming to North Carolina to pursue something I didn’t know a lot about.”

Gordon returned to the stage late in the program to graciously accept the Achievement in Motorsport Tribute Award.

“For me personally, my career has been pretty overwhelming and pretty unbelievable,” Gordon said. “The greatest thing that ever happened to me was to come to North Carolina become part of such a wonderful sport. I would have never dreamed when I ran my first race in 1992 that my career would go the way it would.”

Gordon was then joined on stage by legendary racing promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, his former crew chief Steve Letarte and a surprise guest — veteran car builder Bob East, who was among those responsible for Gordon’s early success in midget and sprint car racing, for a panel discussion about Gordon’s career.

Gordon was legitimately surprised by East’s presence. East had been in Tulsa, Okla., on Tuesday for night one of the Chili Bowl Nationals and was flying back to Oklahoma in the morning.

The pair talked about Gordon’s early career driving East-built cars and hit on everything from how Gordon got his first midget ride, their success together, racing against midget racing legend Ron “Sleepy” Tripp and Gordon’s shyness during his younger days.

“When we raced together, he hardly ever talked,” East quipped. “Now look at him.”

Gordon clearly enjoyed telling stories of his early days in racing.

The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was not the only honoree on the night.

The NCMA’s annual Jim Hunter Memorial Media Award was presented posthumously to the late FOX Sports reporter Steve Byrnes. His son, Bryson, skillfully accepted the award in his dad’s honor.

Motorsports Industry Awards were presented to Controlled Thermal Processing, CRP-USA, AeroDyn, Jostens and Motor Racing Outreach.

North Carolina Motorsports Foundation Scholarships were presented to Tyler Boyd, Tristian Emm, Andrew Lipscomb and Dean Shipman, while the inaugural Sam Belnavis Scholarship Recipient was Robert William Johnson.