Originally created 07/06/06

Racing to find a date



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jeff Gordon learned the hard way: It's difficult to find love in the Nextel Cup Series.

That's why his engagement to supermodel Ingrid Vanderboush came far away from the fast lane. He met her at a party in New York - hardly the hotbed for stock-car racing - and she barely understood, or cared about, Gordon's high-profile role in the sport. That was reason enough for Gordon to start the arduous process of asking for a date and starting a long-distance relationship.

Gordon, like so many other drivers, tried to find love in the business. That relationship, with a woman he met in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway, ended with a well-publicized divorce that provided fodder for tabloids that usually are more concerned about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Gordon's marriage to Brooke Sealy ended with her asking for a jet, yacht and South Florida mansion - complete with servants and a gardener.

Stock-car racing suddenly jumped from the sports pages to the entertainment and gossip sections. Gordon's life suddenly was moved away from Sportscenter to Access Hollywood.

Being single isn't easy in NASCAR, several drivers said. The dating scene has changed dramatically since the sport's popularity skyrocketed in the past 15 years. Kissing and telling used to be a rite of passage in racing; now it's something that sends a lot of the unmarried drivers running.

"Finding a woman is easy in this sport; finding a good woman is hard," Greg Biffle said. "I'm glad I don't have to do it anymore."

Biffle is engaged to Nicole Lunders. He tried the dating scene when he drove on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1999 and 2000. He thought his position as a professional racer - and a champion - would make the process easy. In reality, he said it made it more difficult.

"I'm not really a night club-type person," he said. "What scares me is that crazy fan. Even though she may be good looking and everything, you just don't know. You watch those shows on TV, like that Windfall. They know you have money and they can get crazy. It's easy for me now because I don't have to pay a lot of attention to it."

Gordon took himself off the market last week, announcing he was going to get married again.

"When it comes down to it, you usually meet somebody through friends or in the workplace," he said. "To me, this workplace isn't always the best place for me to find somebody I want to spend the rest of my life with. Time only tells what their true intentions are. I've always wanted to meet somebody I had a connection with.

"I had a great time being single; I have a better time being in a relationship."

Gordon said he learned a lot during his first marriage. He's approaching his next wedding - no date has been set - with a lot more savvy.

"I think she knows that I'm a lot smarter the second time around. I guarantee you one thing, she's got a much better guy this time around and I've got an amazing girl this time around, too," Gordon said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart are two of the sport's most famous bachelors, and both said they're too difficult for any woman to love. Stewart said he wants to get married someday and have children, but so far "I haven't found a woman stupid enough to marry me."

If the garage area at Daytona is any indication, both have plenty of women to pick from. But finding a good one isn't that easy.

"It would take a special person," Casey Mears said. "In the sport that we're in, with as much as we travel, with the focus on what we have to do week in and week out, it would take a special type of woman who could put up with how busy we are. Even if she came to the track, we're so busy. We only have the evenings.

"It would take a very independent, strong-willed girl. The last thing you want as a driver is, (because) you're so focused on your job, to get pressure from someone when you come home. It's tough."

Mears said he's not looking for love right now in the Nextel Cup Series. He's happy racing every week and enjoying his bachelorhood.

"I'm just looking to have fun. I'm not looking for anyone right now," he said. "One of these days I'm sure the right girl will come along.

"Right now, I'm just having a good time. I'm not looking for a relationship right now. If the right girl comes along, so be it."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.