Since Cody Cutrer was in diapers, he's been a Jeff Gordon fan — despite his family's strong Dale Earnhardt loyalties.
There was just something about Gordon.
Cutrer's world collided with his lifelong sports idol April 27 when Gordon assisted the South Mississippi native in proposing to his longtime girlfriend.
Cutrer and Gordon's people orchestrated the special moment to take place during a meet-and-greet at the Jeff Gordon VIP Experience in Talladega, Alabama.
The Coast couple was the last in a long group of super fans. Cutrer's heart was beating out of his chest as one by one the NASCAR legend signed autograph after autograph. The Henleyfield, Mississippi, natives were the last to step up and "meet" Gordon — with an arrangement already in place.
"I heard you have one last question for me, maybe not for me?" he said.
Cutrer paused. As the 23-year-old dug in his jeans pocket for the ring, Shannon Barbin's hands shot to her mouth in shock. For the next 30 seconds, Cutrer's idol faded from his consciousness. He dropped to one knee and with his yellow "24" tattoo clearly visible on his right forearm he asked his girlfriend of six years to be his wife.
As they embraced, Gordon clapped.
"SHE SAID YES!" he shouted.
Back in Henleyfield — which is between Carriere, and Bogalusa, Louisiana — Barbin, 21, glowed through the phone Friday while talking about the proposal.
Barbin laughed at the memory. While in line to meet Gordon, she was staring at her soon-to-be fiance, wondering if he'd be nervous meeting his idol. Meanwhile, bystanders in on the secret were staring at her.
"I had absolutely no idea, which is completely surprising because Cody stinks at keeping secrets," she said. "It's usually written all over his face that something's off. He played it off so cool."
"It was unreal," Cutrer added. "And to have my sports idol be there and be a part of it, it was surreal."
Cutrer said he grew to love Gordon when he was 4 or 5 years old.
"Ever since I first saw his race car," Cutrer said. "My family was all Dale Earnhardt fans and I needed a driver.
"I'd watch the races with my grandpa and he (Jeff) would always win and Earnhardt wouldn't."
After meeting Gordon for the sixth time April 27, Cutrer feels like he knows the California native and NASCAR's all-time leader in road-course wins (9) and restrictor-plate wins (12).
"He's just a down-to-Earth person. He remembers me from meeting me before," Cutrer said. "You can see in the video he's just as excited as we are."
The proposal has added significance for the young couple. Since 2011, Barbin said, Cutrer has suffered from severe seizures — to the extent she says they impact his memory.
"Something like that he'll never forget," she said.
Cutrer has repeatedly seen doctors since being diagnosed with epilepsy in 2011 but the seizures have only worsened.
"We've been back and forth with doctors and neurologists," she said. "We're just hoping for a miracle now."
With monthly medicine costs of around $385, Barbin has set up a GoFundMe account in hopes people will help the young couple.
"We're not looking for a handout or anything. We're just trying to reach out for a little bit of help for him," she said. "Anything people want to donate we're grateful for."
Cutrer and Barbin have been together since they met March 5, 2012, in their freshman year of high school in Picayune.
The high school sweethearts already have a wedding date picked out — March 2, 2019.
"I'm on the ball," Barbin joked after only half-seriously being asked if they had a date picked out.
It sounds like Barbin and Cutrer are well on the way to planning their wedding. What are the chances Gordon receives an invitation?
"Oh, he's going to get one," Cutrer said.