NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Doug Gordon retires from driving after third TAFC championship in four years

Not many athletes get to end their careers at the top of their game, winning a championship before removing their gear for the last time, and it routinely doesn’t happen in drag racing. Then there’s Doug Gordon. 
23 Dec 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
2023 NHRA world champion
Doug Gordon

Not many athletes get to end their careers at the top of their game, winning a championship before removing their gear for the last time, and it routinely doesn’t happen in drag racing, where more than one driver has kept the belts buckled long after their prime. 

Then there’s Doug Gordon. 

The second-generation cabinet maker from Paso Robles, Calif., will retire from driving with the cupboards full of trophies and accolades after winning his second straight and third Top Alcohol Funny Car championship in the last four years. Gordon is following through on his pledge to happily hang up his driving gloves and turn over the wheel of the family race car to his daughter, Maddi, in 2024, just as he took over from his father more than 20 years ago. 

The Gordon family – Doug, wife Christina, daughters Maddi and Macie, and parents Mike and Cheryl – celebrated their third championship over the last four years as they prepare to transition to putting Maddi behind the wheel in 2024.

Knowing that the end of the track was in sight helped him enjoy a walk-off, mic-drop season with a near-perfect year encompassing six national event scores and two regional wins. The only blemish on his points-scoring record was a pair of runner-ups – one national and one regional – that left him with an unbeatable total. 

“Last year was so stressful trying to win the championship, but this year, I went into it knowing it was my last year, and I didn’t really want the stress again, so I’m just gonna have fun,” he said. “If we win races and we win the championship, great. If we don’t, then I’m OK with it, too. In a lot of ways, it made me better because the stress wasn’t there, and I just ended up performing better because of it.”  

One of Gordon’s two scoring round-losses came in their first race, at the West Region event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, where they overpowered the track in the final against a beatable opponent and learned a lesson of moderation that they used throughout the year. 

The Gordon team – comprised of his parents, Mike and Cheryl, his wife, Christina, and daughters Maddi and Macie – rebounded quickly, winning both the NHRA Winternationals and the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals and, after a late-spring break, the Central Region event at Bandimere Speedway. 

Doug Gordon won both of his first two national event appearances this season, beating Shane Westerfield to win the NHRA Winternationals and finishing ahead of Ulf Leanders, Brian Hough, and Jake Guadagnolo at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas.

Their early success allowed them to drop points from early exits at the Las Vegas regional and the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals that wouldn’t end up counting against their allotment of three regional and seven national event scores, and they followed quickly with wins at the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle and the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor in Topeka. 

The Topeka victory set them up for a return to Brainerd International Raceway, where last year Gordon crashed hard from the right lane at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, a setback he was able to overcome to win the championship, but a memory that had haunted him. 

“I didn’t really start thinking about winning the championship until after Seattle and Topeka,” he admitted. “Brainerd, honestly, was a big moment for us because there was definitely a lot of emotions about coming back. I was nervous because my first qualifying run this year was in the right lane and then, when I did the burnout, I didn’t have any brakes. That kind of spooked me, but fortunately, our next two qualifiers were in the left lane, and we had lane choice throughout eliminations and stayed in the left all day.” 

Gordon was all smiles after winning the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, where he exorcised the demons from a crash there the previous year and also beat title rival Sean Bellemeur along the way.

The day ended with the Gordons again in the winner’s circle and included an important semifinal win over Gordon’s perennial title rival, Sean Bellemeur, in the potent Bartone Bros Camaro. 

“That was probably one of the crucial parts of the championship because anytime you go against Bellemeur and you take him out, it’s a monster run,” he assessed. “It was definitely pivotal. 

“Then we stayed over to Monday, and Maddi finished her licensing runs and looked really good. That made it a dream weekend.” 

But Bellemeur wasn’t done yet. The guy who had won three championships over the last six seasons won the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals after taking out Gordon in the semifinals. Then, with the Gordons on a month-long break in their schedule, Bellemeur quickly added a win at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, a runner-up at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, and an East Region win in Richmond. 

“He basically caught back up to us, but we still knew going into the last five races of year, starting at the St. Louis regional, that we had a good shot unless Sean won all the races, like he’s capable of, so we needed to win some of them or have him not win some of them,” Gordon said. 

World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis was the site of Gordon’s first race after his crash last year, and he won it in a crucial step towards the title, and history repeated itself this year as he won again to set up a showdown the following weekend at the Texas NHRA FallNationals. 

The championship battle came to its conclusion in Dallas with Bellemeur’s surprising second-round holeshot loss to Kyle Smith. Gordon was right behind him and drove home the final nail on Matt Gill’s red-light to clinch the championship and then went on to win the race, too. 

Gordon’s sixth national event title of the year came at the Texas NHRA FallNationals, where he defeated Jim Whiteley in the final, two rounds after sewing up his third world championship.

“When Sean went out and we won the round, it was over,” Gordon remembered. “I came around the corner and saw him there. I went up to him, and he was very emotional, and he asked, ‘Is that it?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ He was really bummed because he lost on a holeshot and prides himself on being so good, which he is. 

“What’s funny is that when I rolled around the corner after losing at the last race in Pomona, I saw Bellemeur and [2017 world champ] Shane Westerfield walking up to my car. I hadn’t seen my win light come on and hoped maybe I had just missed seeing it, but I had lost. I said, ‘Does that mean it’s done?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ then they came over and hugged me. It was pretty cool. 

“I accomplished everything I wanted to as a driver. We won championships, we won Indy twice, won the JEGS Allstars race, and won at almost every racetrack that we’ve raced at. It’s been a good career.” 

Of course, the Doug Gordon story doesn’t end there. Beta Motorcycles renewed its major sponsorship with the team for Maddi, who plans to run a full season in her rookie year and contend for the championship with her dad at her side. 

“My hope is for her to finish in the top five, but it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world to see her go to the top,” said the proud father. “I mean, it’s a great car, and I think she has a lot of ability. We’re gonna run the car just as hard as we did when I was driving it and just see where the cards fall.” 

In addition to his family, Gordon thanked Beta Motorcycles, Lucas Oil, NGK, the team at Morro Bay Cabinets, and the technical help of AJPE, Bullet Cams, Hoosier Tires, B&J Transmissions, and Sander Wheels for their support.


Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (Regional)


Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals


NHRA Four-Wide Nationals


Bandimere Speedway (Regional)


Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals


Menards NHRA Nationals


Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals


Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals


World Wide Technology Raceway (Regional)


Texas NHRA FallNationals


This article originally appeared in the Year in Review issue of National Dragster.