Missing: Quarter Midget race car. Last seen in 1978. Make unknown. Identifying characteristics: fuzzy body surface, round aluminum front axle that has been broken and welded together. If found, please contact the man with the most consecutive starts in NASCAR history.
Yes, Jeff Gordon is searching for his first car.
More accurately, Gordon’s stepfather, John Bickford, is looking for the car. It’s not like Bickford spends his days sleuthing, Columbo-style. But for years he has kept an eye out for the vehicle, following up on leads that have always resulted in dead ends.
“Oh yeah, over the years I’ve had 20 or 30 people tell me, ‘I’ve got Jeff’s car,’ ” Bickford explained over the phone recently. “I’ll say, ‘How do you know?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, I bought it from this guy, and he told me that the guy he bought it from said it had belonged to Jeff.’ I’ve had some people bring me cars. But I’ve never seen one that was Jeff Gordon’s car.”
On a bus ride in June, from his first regular track in Rio Lindo to his middle school in Vallejo, Gordon expressed interest in recovering the car. He said he has one of his old sprint cars, and a previous NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car. But Bickford noted that they don’t own any of Gordon’s cars from the Quarter Midget and Midget era.
Gordon’s favorite was a car that Bickford sold to a man in Portland, Ore., in 1981. The buyer’s first name was Tom; for the life of him, Bickford can’t remember the last name.
“It had a custom-made aluminum hood, black with flames,” Bickford said. “It was No. 16. There were only two of these cars ever made, by a guy named Stanley. Jeff was so mad at me for selling it.”
But the real prize would be the original.
Gordon was 4 years old when Bickford came home from work one day and said, “Look out the window.” Parked in front of the house in East Vallejo were two Quarter Midgets, one for Jeff and one for his older sister, Kim.
Gordon drove the car for just a few months, from April to July or August of 1977. Bickford never intentionally unloaded it. After Gordon had moved up to a more powerful ride, Bickford loaned the old Quarter Midget to a racing acquaintance in Oroville who wanted to give his young grandson a chance to race. In 1978, Bickford said, he asked for the car back. But the grandfather was ill at that time. He promised and procrastinated, and eventually Bickford lost touch with him.
“Somewhere in the late eighties, early nineties, I started looking for it,” Bickford said. “I found his daughter, but she was divorced. I couldn’t find the ex-husband and the kid.”
Bickford has done a lot of asking around since then, with no Eureka! moments.
Considering that the car had no VIN or serial number, unearthing it would seem to be a long shot. Bickford was never sure who made it. He said it’s probably a Speedway from the late 1950s. Then again, a lot of companies designed similar cars at that time.
“Find a Hot Rod magazine from 1955, 1956, 1957, and you’ll see a ton of pictures of Quarters ready to go,” Bickford said. “They were like $500.”
Gordon’s first car did have a couple of distinguishing traits, though. Bickford said the front axle of those old Speedways was almost always made of steel. Gordon’s was aluminum. It cracked at one point and Bickford welded it back together. He says he would recognize the weld.
And then there’s this: “One thing that was unique about the car, the surface was sprayed with this spray-on nylon stuff,” Bickford said. “It was a process similar to when people used to have their porch sprayed, like with artificial grass. You couldn’t wear it out. Someone raced a vehicle like that in about 1969, and everyone called it the Fuzzmobile. The original owner I got the car from, he was from Napa. And if you were to rub it, it felt like it had fur. We all called it the Fuzz Car.”
Maybe the car is still fuzzy. Or maybe someone sanded it down and repainted. Or maybe it was junked years ago. Bickford has no more idea than the rest of us, though he hasn’t given up hope of locating it.
“Would I be interested in that first Quarter Midget? Yeah,” he said. “As for the likelihood, I’d give it pretty low percentile.”