'94 BRICKYARD LAUNCHED GORDON'S NASCAR CAREER INTO ORBIT INDIANAPOLIS, July 27, 1999 -- Jeff Gordon credits the blastoff of his magnificent NASCAR Winston Cup Series career and accompanying world fame to winning the inaugural Brickyard...
'94 BRICKYARD LAUNCHED GORDON'S NASCAR CAREER INTO ORBIT
INDIANAPOLIS, July 27, 1999 -- Jeff Gordon credits the blastoff of his magnificent NASCAR Winston Cup Series career and accompanying world fame to winning the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. Gordon, then only a sophomore on the big-league, stock-car tour, became something of an overnight sensation when he won the historic 160-lap race over the acclaimed, 2.5-mile course. Of course, Gordon added to his Brickyard legend in 1998 when he became the first two-time winner of the coveted NASCAR event. But the Gordon, who will celebrate his 28th birthday Aug. 4, said it'll be hard to top the excitement of winning the '94 race which helped launch the Hendrick Motorsports "Rainbow Warrior" dynasty. "Anytime you win at Indy it's a big deal," said Gordon, who has a series-leading four wins this season. "To me winning that first Brickyard 400 was like living through a fantasy, like you're really not sure if you're sleeping and dreaming or it's really happening. Nothing will ever compare to that." The '94 Brickyard victory was just the second of Gordon's young Winston Cup career. Since that visit to Indy's Victory Lane, Gordon has won 44 more races and captured the Winston Cup championship three times. He set a blistering pace last year when he won a record-tying 13 races in 33 starts, captured his third national championship and earned more than $9 million in prize and bonus money. "That ('94 Brickyard win) launched me in a big way for a number of reasons because of the hype of that race," said Gordon, whose first career win came in the '94 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Maybe not many people were watching the 600 that year, but boy they were watching the Brickyard, and every newspaper from around the country had my face or name on it. That definitely launched me into the marketing world, and then I became a recognized name and figure in our sport. "Winning the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994 gave me the confidence and the team the confidence to win the Brickyard 400," Gordon continued. "It would have been pretty tough to win our very first race at the Brickyard because there's so much pressure and so much going on. "It's amazing how once you win a race, you gain this confidence level that says, 'Hey, I can win in Winston Cup now.' I think it was important for me going into the Brickyard. We were kind of on a roll at that point. Things were going well for us." And the roll hasn't stopped. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long held a special place in Gordon's heart. Gordon, who came up through the USAC ranks, was heading toward an open-wheel racing career until he got detoured to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. Few of today's Winston Cup drivers have the knowledge and know the history of the Speedway like Gordon. Gordon got his first look at IMS as a little kid during a bus tour the day after the Indianapolis 500. "Before we moved to Indiana, we went to the Speedway a couple of times," said Gordon. "We'd fly in to do some quarter-midget racing. We had some friends there who built my cars. We never had tickets to go to the race, so we went the day after, and ride the bus around the track. It was really cool. We did that a couple of times. "When I was a little older, we got tickets to the race. It was Al Unser Jr.'s rookie year, and Rick Mears was on the pole and I got his autograph. He was the only driver I ever got an autograph from, but I became a really big Rick Mears fan because of that." Indianapolis Motor Speedway pulls an emotional string for Gordon, much more so than the next Winston Cup driver. Gordon has seen IMS from several different angles and longed to someday race the big track. "I don't know how many guys in this garage area have actually been to the Indianapolis 500 to watch the race," said Gordon. "Most of these guys were racing stock cars in the Southeast. For me growing up, especially when I started driving midgets and sprint cars, Indianapolis was it." And still is. "Winning twice at Indy builds your confidence," said Gordon. "I feel real good and excited about going there. It's just a special place for me. When I drive into that track, I feel something very special."