Jeff Gordon took a victory lap Tuesday around Penn State that ended at the Penn State Berkey Creamery with his favorite ice cream — mint chocolate chip.
The only thing that would have made his day sweeter is if he’d just won a race.
Gordon instead unveiled a Penn State-themed paint scheme for his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS car that he’ll drive at Pocono Raceway’s Axalta We Paint Winners 400 in the June 7 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
After the unveiling, he drove it around campus with junior chemical engineering student Olga Vinogradova, who will be a student representative at the race.
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“I was not expecting to feel how much power that car has,” Vinogradova said. “It’s one thing seeing them race, but it’s completely different being inside one. I don’t think I’ll ever have another experience like this again, so my smile was large enough for all of Penn State.”
Gordon was Penn State’s special guest as the university and Philadelphia-based Axalta Coating Systems, a manufacturer of liquid and powder coatings, celebrated its partnership, which was announced last month. The mission is to drive awareness and support for STEM and business education and focuses on students studying engineering and business.
Penn State students can take advantage of Axalta internships offered through the program, which is the second of its kind that the company has with a university. The first, launched last year, was with Axalta Chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver’s alma mater, Texas A&M.
Shaver said students could visit Axalta facilities for educational purposes, similar to the partnership the company has with Texas A&M.
“We’ll host a group of Texas A&M automotive engineer students in the fall where they’ll sit down with our engine builders and learn about alloys, metals and things about stress and engine temperature, so I think we’re most open to giving students the experiences they tell us they’re interested in,” Shaver said. “From a selfish standpoint, we’d love for the best and brightest Penn State students to come and work for us, but the real key is that we want to have a program with Penn State that’s exciting and innovative that is an experience they might not otherwise get, like seeing Jeff Gordon up close like this.”
Hundreds of fans, like Darlene Cupp, of Tyrone, also got a pretty sweet deal.
“Penn State is my favorite place, and he’s my favorite driver, so to have him at the Creamery is too much to handle,” Cupp said. “I love watching him race.”
Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and five-time Brickyard 400 champion, also drives home the importance of education.
“NASCAR has a lot of avid, avid fans in the state of Pennsylvania, and I’ve seen many Penn State students at Pocono over the years, so I know that there are great engineers and future business leaders at this school that will take advantage of the opportunities with this relationship,” he said. “Because of that, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be carrying that unique blue on the No. 24 car not only today, but also on the racetrack at Pocono.”