By Suzy Lowry Geno
Whether it was racing cars in the ARCA and then the NASCAR circuits or, years earlier, rodeoing, competing in barrel racing or horse shows, Tina Gordon was never happy unless she came out the winner.
"Competitive" was not even an adequate enough word to describe her, numerous magazine and newspaper articles concluded, like the written by Neal Sims in the RACING MILESTONES magazine article, "Driven to Succeed."
The office at Tina and Gary Gordon’s Cedar Bluff home and businesses bears witness to her success: the walls are lined with framed copies of her front-page spreads on numerous racing and sports magazines.
So it doesn’t surprise any of her friends, fans and family the petite blonde has not simply rested on her laurels since retiring from the NASCAR racing circuit following the 2005 series.
While she continues with her wonderful relationship as the spokeswoman for the Sticks N Stuff furniture chain (who were also one of her sponsors during her racing career) on their many TV commercials, Tina is combining her love for horses and her love for children by sponsoring therapeutic riding camps for mentally and physically challenged children.
"That’s probably the thing most folks don’t know about Tina," husband Gary explained. "She’ll do anything to help children, and animals as well."
As a matter of fact, her love for children and her love for her own son, Seth, now 16, is the primary reason Tina left the hurried and harried world of racing.
"I just wanted to spend more time at home with him," she stated. (Family in the Cedar Bluff area also includes her twin sister, Rena, and her one-year-old daughter, Demie Jo).
But Tina is proud of her careers thus far. She loved the rodeo circuit, and then continued her drive to success by owning the Allstate Insurance Agency in Cedar Bluff for three years.
But her professional life took a major side trip when she drove Gary’s short-track car in 1995 and 1996 at Green Valley Speedway in Gadsden, making her way to the winner’s circle in all six races.
"I was hooked," she said laughing.
The following year, Gary and Tina bought another car and of the 18 starts during her rookie season in 1997 at the Men’s Hobby Divison at Thunder Mountain Speedway in Fyffe, Tina had six top-five finishes, 11 top-ten finishes and finished 10th in overall points.
Tina sold her insurance agency and began racing full time at Green Valley before moving to the Birmingham International Raceway on June 12, 1998.
In 1999 and 2000, she raced trucks in the NASCAR All-Pro Series, full time on tracks in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Florida, finishing 20th in overall points.
She made her Busch Series debut September 2001 at Darlington.
She scored her first top-ten in the Busch Series in Talladega in April of 2002.
Her career continued to improve and on May 18, 2002, she qualified 16th (with a speed of 174.115 mph) in the 100 ARCA/Remax Race at Charlotte, a prelude to "The Winston." She was making her move, from the 13th spot trying for the 12th position when a crash left her with serious leg and foot injuries.
No one was surprised when she was soon back racing again.
"It’s kind of like riding that horse and when you fall off, you’ve got to get back on it," Tina said then.
Yet in 2005, following 10 years of success, Tina said she just made the decision to stay home with her family.
"Seth was so involved in all sports and he was getting older so fast that I really wanted to spend more time with him," she explained.
Seth played with a statewide youth baseball league that attended —- and won —- its division World Series in Las Vegas. He remained active in baseball, football and basketball until this fall when an injury during the Cedar Bluff Tigers’ second football game left him with three major breaks in his leg.
Seth has undoubtedly inherited his parents’ drive to succeed as his leg has been removed from the cast earlier than doctors anticipated and he’s already been cleared to play baseball! Whether or not he’ll later be cleared to return to football will be decided later in the spring.
"We’ve just been so blessed," Tina said about her life overall, as she sat recently surrounded by two of the eight "rescued" dogs currently in residence at Tina’s Dream Ranch.
"When I left racing, I started getting back into horses," Tina explained.
The ranch now includes eight horses: a three-year-old, Pepper, which is her special horse to ride; Skipper, a Palomino who, at 16, is the same age as Seth and is his horse; and Blaze, the mother of Buck, a six-month-old colt Tina had just weaned at the time of this article.
"He’ll always be here," Tina said of Buck. She’d missed many nights of sleep, traveling the short distance from the family home to their six-stall newer barn, but Blaze didn’t seem to be in labor. She finally wound up sleeping in the barn each night, afraid she’d miss the birthing!
The night before Mother’s Day, the family went out to eat and Tina feared they’d been gone to long.
"I told Gary to not even stop at the house, to just drive me straight to the barn," Tina explained. Buck was born a short time later and has proven to be the family’s pet.
There’s also Bubba, a gentle 25-year-old Appaloosa which was a gift from John Croyle and his Big Oak Boy’s Ranch, with Croyle knowing Bubba would be just perfect to carry some of the children Tina hopes to help.
Tina and Gary said the first day-long event for the special kids should begin in April, and will proceed monthly, and possibly more often, if demand continues. Tina also noted how successful such therapy has been in the lives of so many children.
"We want to serve kids in the Cherokee, Etowah and nearby county areas," Tina stated. "We already have a group of children with autism who plan to be here."
While Tina has the "heart" for the businesses, Gary has the "business brains," Tina explained, searching out sponsors for the Dream Ranch activities just as he did for her racing endeavors. That’s in addition to Gary running two businesses from the ranch as well: the Extermco Pest Control business and a home improvement division of Extermco.
Gary has also recently completed a small pond on the ten acres to be used for the kids’ activities, in hopes of having fishing available for the youngsters as well.
Recent rains filled the pond in November, but the drought has hit the little ranch hard.
"We’ve been feeding hay all year round," Tina said, "And we’re having to buy it all."
While Tina and Gary say the folks at the Cherokee Farmer’s Cooperative "couldn’t be more helpful," feed and other horse essentials add up quickly.
Folks who "sponsor" a particular horse for a year financially get a plaque and are invited to share in the ranch’s activities.
Volunteers are also needed to help with horse care, leading the horses while the children ride them, among other duties, on the upcoming activity days.
The Ranch is sponsoring trail rides and other events as fund raisers for the upcoming events for special children as well, because there will be NO CHARGE for any of the special needs children who participate.
As additional fund raisers, Tina hopes to have camps for children who do not have special needs as well.
Information on volunteering, the camps, trail rides and more will be frequently updated on the Ranch’s website, www.tinasdreamranch.com
, or folks needing more information may call Gary on his cell phone at 256-484-2163.
With the Gordon family’s record, both on and off the race track, you can bet the special children who participate in the riding camps will be winners indeed!
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.