He’s Jeff Gordon, but not the NASCAR star

Jeff Gordon “could write a book” about being mistaken for his namesake, the NASCAR star.

Gordon, 62, has been president and CEO of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation since the late 1990s.

A decade ago, a friend who was head usher for Celine Dion’s show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace offered Gordon and his wife ushering jobs.

“So we did that. As I am seating people, they see my name (badge). I can’t tell you how many autographs I signed from people who knew I wasn’t the real Jeff Gordon but just wanted to say they came back from Vegas with Jeff Gordon’s autograph.

“Hopefully, Jeff will forgive me,” said Gordon, who said he has not traded on the famous name of the NASCAR legend.

“I’ve disappointed a lot of people,” he said, such as restaurateurs who thought the reservation was for the driver.

The longtime Las Vegas resident got the VIP treatment in 2000 when he was hospitalized during a bout with cancer. “Six admitting people came to the room,” he said.

“It’s definitely opened doors. But I’m constantly saying, ‘No, not that Jeff Gordon.’ ”

Corporate phone operators perk up when the Las Vegas executive responds to, “May I say who’s calling?” One operator asked for an autographed photo.

As luck would have it, the Las Vegas Gordon was introduced to the driver about that time.

“It was early in his racing career. I told him about the operator. He autographed a photo for her, and I mailed it to her,” he said.

The real Jeff Gordon announced in January that this is his final full-time Sprint Cup Series season. It will be his 23rd year. He is 43.

The other Gordon was born and raised in Salt Lake City. He got involved in sports management and moved to Casper, Wyo., where he ran a Continental Basketball Association team for eight years. In the mid-1980s, Casper’s team played for the CBA title, losing to the Albany, N.Y., franchise coached by NBA player-turned-coach Phil Jackson.

Gordon moved to Las Vegas in 1988 to run the Silver Streaks, a member of World Basketball League for players under 6-feet-5-inches tall. The league lasted three seasons, with the Silver Streaks winning one of the championships.

REMEMBERING FEB. 3, 1959

The sister of rock ‘n’ roll star Ritchie Valens broke into tears this week at the “out of the blue” news.

Reliving the tragedy through images of the crash scene on her TV was too much for Irma Valens Norton.

“I don’t want to hear it anymore,” she said Thursday in her condo at Regency Towers inside Las Vegas Country Club.

Fifty-six years after the plane crash in Iowa that killed her brother and fellow rockers Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, the National Transportation Safety Board reportedly is considering re-opening its investigation.

The Valens family longs for closure.

“We would like to know what happened,” said Gloria Reiman, Irma’s daughter and also a resident of the country club.

The single engine Beechcraft Bonanza went down 3½ minutes after taking off from Mason City Municipal Airport.

The Des Moines Register reported the NTSB, in response to a query from a New England man, indicated it would re-examine the crash. Pilot error and poor weather conditions were ruled the primary cause months after the accident.

Valens’ sister said their mother never flew before or after the accident.

“We took limos to the premieres of ‘La Bamba.’ It took us seven, eight hours” from Los Angeles to northern California, she said.

She was referring to the 1987 hit movie that starred Lou Diamond Phillips as the 17-year-old Valens, whose career had taken off eight months earlier.

Family members have been flying to Iowa ever February since 1988 to attend a festival commemorating the musicians’ last appearance.

In his 1971 classic song, “American Pie,” singer Don McLean referred to the date as “The Day the Music Died.”

“They say it was ‘The Day the Music Died,’ ” said Irma. “But the music never died.”

Valens Norton is putting up a dinner-for-six auction item for the Planned Parenthood fundraising dinner Thursday at the MEET Event Center, 233 S. Fourth Street.

She will host the dinner at the Regency Towers condo, where she lives with her husband, Randy Norton. The condo is a shrine to her brother, with Ritchie Valens’ memorabilia covering the walls.

THE SCENE AND HEARD

The Killers’ Brandon Flowers will perform a, ahem, surprise performance at The Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 S. 11th Street, at 8 p.m. Monday.

SIGHTINGS

Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, in the crowd for the UNLV-San Diego State game on Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

THE PUNCH LINE

“A DEA agent is speaking out against edible marijuana. He said it could lead to a lot of stoned rabbits. He says rabbits will eat the pot that is grown at marijuana farms and start following the band Phish around the country.” — Jimmy Kimmel

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.

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