12th Annual Legends of Motorsport Honoring Jeff Gordon
It was an idyllic fall day—perfect for a drive. And that’s exactly what happened.
Saturday’s rally started at Meadowood, where 79 cars gathered. Together, we drove 36.4 miles to Hamel Family Wines owned by Reserve Members George Hamel, II and his wife Pam. We passed through Calistoga and took Highway 12 through Kenwood to arrive in Glen Ellen. At this pitstop, we did a tour of the estate, tasting of their wines and wonderful hospitality with George Hamel, III.
An hour later, it was time to hit the road, this time moving south to the Keller Estate Winery for lunch and car viewing. Arturo Keller and his wife Deborah are known for stellar chardonnay, gravity flow winemaking, in addition to numerous spectacular marques and just about the finest Mercedes-Benz collection outside of the manufacturers’. In fact, the Kellers took home Best of Show trophies in 1986 and 2001 with a Mercedes at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Inspired and invigorated, the rally toured Sonoma backroads and headed back to Meadowood via the Silverado Trail. All tolled, the rally covered 110 miles.
As with every year, the collection of cars at this, the 12th annual event, was a car aficionado’s dream. Classics ranged from a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS and 1956 Mercedes Gullwing to a 1973 Porsche Carrera RS Lightweight and a 1964 Shelby Cobra. Then there were the new, but highly acclaimed cars like the Porsche Singer 911, 2015 918 Porsche Spyder Hybrid as well as a Ferrari La Ferrari and McClaren P1.
That evening, we reconvened for the reception and intimate dinner with Jeff Gordon in the Pavilion. During the introductions, both Managing Director Philip Norfleet and Managing Partner Bill Harlan spoke of the time, 14 years ago, when The Napa Valley Reserve was just an idea.
As Mr. Harlan introduced Bruce Meyer, Director of Motorsports for Tahe Napa Valley Reserve, he also noted “This is a wine club that has Members with more automobile collections of the finest cars around the world—more than any other car club.”
Bruce acknowledged that what first began as a party is now 12 amazing events into becoming a true annual tradition. What’s changed the most for Bruce, he says, is that the younger generation is driving much faster, too.
As far as the attendees go, many representatives of the motorsport world were present, from Bonneville to LeMans to NASCAR. Gentlemen like Charlie Nearburg, the world’s fastest wheel-driven man at 412 mph, Jack Rogers, a multi-land speed record holder, Jim Busby, and Rob Kauffman, to name a few.
After the introductions, including a short video, Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, three-time Daytona 500 Winner, five-time Brickyard 400 winner (among other acclaims), came on stage. The Q&A with Jeff touched on his early start in the profession—as Jeff started racing at the age of 5 years old. Much of his early success was a direct result of his stepfather, who had racecar driving dreams that he passed down to Jeff.
Jeff Gordon has had such an awe-inspiring career but is so humble that you had to continue to remind yourself that he’s one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers of all time. He also has quite a sense of humor. During the evening, they played an excerpt of a prank Jeff Gordon did with Pepsi. Tears of laughter is the best way to explain what occurred. (If you missed it, Google: “Jeff Gordon pranks car salesman.”)
You didn’t have to be a racecar or motorsports fan to enjoy this evening—but if you were, it was a night to be remembered. While it was inevitable to get some insight into the cars and leave knowing intimately what a “quarter-midget” is, it was quite a personable and intimate chat that spanned Jeff’s childhood and marriage. In fact, they told the story of Jeff getting engaged here at Meadowood. Back before The Reserve was built, this site served as a helipad so that Jeff could come and stay here and propose to his wife.
“If you want to talk about the epitome of an American dream, I feel like I’ve lived it, “ says Gordon. “I started from a really small beginning and had a passion. I found something that I loved and was able to excel at it to such a level that I was able to ask ‘what’s the greatest place in the Napa Valley to stay?’ Of course it was Meadowood.” He says, “Meadowood plays a big role in my life. For years, I’ve been coming here enjoying this beautiful facility.”