It's Jeff Gordon Day in Pittsboro!


The "Pride of Pittsboro" was back in town for a parade in his honor Thursday.

NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon is being celebrated in the Indiana town of about 3,000 people, where he spent many of his teenage years. After decades of racing and winning the Brickyard 400 five times, Gordon will drive in his final Brickyard 400 this Sunday.

Thursday was proclaimed "Jeff Gordon Day" in Pittsboro. The celebrations started with a parade down Main Street, followed by an awards ceremony at Scamahorn Park.

Greeted like a legend, Gordon couldn't hide his emotions or his pride.

"This to me, today, has been one of the best days of my life," Gordon told the crowd. "I get to see what Pittsboro not only meant to me, but what it means to you guys."

SLIDESHOW: Jeff Gordon Day

Gordon won the first ever Brickyard 400 in 1994 and is a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champ.

"I never would have accomplished what I did in racing, without the town of Pittsboro," Gordon said.

On the tail end of a racing career that broke records and set standards, Gordon took a slow ride down Main Street Thursday. His fans and former neighbors recognized him as a man who has not forgotten where he came from.

"He came and he integrated into the community, and he accepted help from the community and Hendricks County and the whole state of Indiana," said Pittsboro native Susan Bachelle. "We know he doesn't live here now, but it doesn't matter. He's still one of our own and that's what's important."

"He's a respectful driver. He gives space, he doesn't have to wreck people to get to the front and he's a champion from the start," said Gordon fan Ryan Upchurch.

In front of Thursday's crowd, Indiana Governor Mike Pence gave Gordon the state's prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash award.

"It's not just Jeff Gordon Day here in Pittsboro, as governor of the great state of Indiana, I declare it's Jeff Gordon Day in all 92 counties," Pence said.

Though he was born in California, Pittsboro is a home of sorts for Gordon. His family moved there when he was 14 to bolster his racing career.

"It's amazing, and I really appreciated all of the thanks that he gave to the community," Bachelle said.

Gordon graduated from Tri-West High School. Decades later, along with his NASCAR titles, Gordon was named his high school's "most famous graduate" and an honorary police officer.

"The coolest thing is seeing all these people come out to Pittsboro, driving down that main street and seeing all those people. That blew my mind. And to be able to share that with some high school friends of mine, made my day, made their day," Gordon said.

Now, just days ahead of his 44th birthday, "Number 24" returned for a good luck send off before his final Brickyard 400.

"I've seen him win all five of them, I've been to every Brickyard 400 and I'll be there Sunday," said Gordon fan Scott Collier.

"I really hope he wins and I wish him nothing but the best in his career, no matter what it is," Upchurch said.