He was just 24 when winning inaugural race in 1994
By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years.”
Even Jeff Gordon realizes how quickly 20 years have gone by since the Pittsboro-bred race car driver won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.
Gordon was 24 and sported a mustache when he drove the iconic No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet across the yard of bricks to win NASCAR’s first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The four-time race winner and four-time NASCAR Cup champion would treasure a fifth win Sunday at IMS and, most definitely, a fifth Cup championship. He was assured of being in The Chase with his win at Kansas Speedway. He also is the Sprint Cup points leader.
“I think that the way that our cars are performing, the way our engines are performing, Indianapolis is a track we can certainly win at,” Gordon said during a teleconference call earlier this month.
Gordon, who grew up in Indiana racing midget cars and sprint cars, treasures the IMS, once the exclusive home of IndyCar racing. NASCAR and Gordon launched a new tradition in 1994 that he fondly recalls.
“Even if you go back to the test that we had, the fans were lined up on the fence around the garage area just wanting to see stock cars race at Indianapolis,” Gordon said. “It was much of the same when it came to race day, just so many fans and you just couldn't walk anywhere without getting mobbed. That just showed you the impact and significance of that inaugural event.”
Since winning the 1994 Brickyard, Gordon’s career skyrocketed. His Cup statistics include 760 starts, all for Hendrick Motorsports, 90 wins, 74 poles, $145 million in winnings and more than 30 million miles of racing.
He has not forgotten his Indiana roots. He grew up in Pittsboro, graduated from Tri-West High School and raced in the Midwest at an earlier age than he could in his home state of California. Teachers and administrators were lenient of his absences at Tri-West so he could go racing. He lived on 5 acres in Hendricks County, where there was a separate building to work on midget and sprint cars.
”I am sort of an adopted Hoosier,” said Gordon, who revered the Brickyard as a youth. “I always wanted to race there, and to get that opportunity, especially, an opportunity to win, it just is a way to live out a childhood dream.
“It’s amazing how the Indiana fans have treated me over the years. When I go to Indianapolis I get obviously a bigger round of applause or whatever ... the area are cheering or clapping. It’s unlike any other place that I go, and I love it.”
There is no doubt Gordon is in the twilight of his career. He will be 43 Aug. 4, and the physical rigors of racing have caused severe back pain. And he thoroughly enjoys family life with wife Ingrid Vandebosch and their two children.
Nevertheless, Gordon’s resurgence is welcome.
“I’ve felt good about every track that we've gone to this year. I’m excited to go to every track because I feel like we have a shot at a win just about everywhere we go.”
And that includes the Brickyard 400 Sunday.