I had two “Throwback Thursday”-type topics I wanted to discuss here in my blog space on Auto Racing Daily this week, so today, I’m instituting “Way Back Wednesday” here on the site. And for this “Way Back Wednesday,” the topic of conversation is the 1994 Brickyard 400.
With the 2014 Brickyard 400 quickly approaching — it’s Sunday, in case you didn’t realize it — this year’s installment of the race will mark the 20th anniversary of that memorable and historic first NASCAR race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, shall we?
The race was won by a then-young Jeff Gordon. You know that Britney Spears song that goes, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman,” or something like that? Well, technically, Gordon wasn’t exactly a boy. He was of adult age when he arrived on the Winston (now-Sprint) Cup scene about a year-and-a-half prior to that 1994 Brickyard 400. Still, apparently, Dale Earnhardt, who hadn’t quite yet won his seventh Cup at that point, didn’t consider Gordon a man, either. Why do I say that? A year later, Earnhardt declared himself the first “man” to win the Brickyard 400, a year after Gordon won the first. But that was 1995; we’re talking 1994, here.
Anyway, back to the 1994 race.
This historic race at the Brickyard was the 19th race of the 1994 Winston Cup season. Aside from being the first NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was historic in other ways. The race drew the largest crown of any NASCAR race up to that point and offered a then-record purse of $3.2 million. While the payout was large, the race also made IMS a nice chunk of change. As a matter-of-fact, the Brickyard 400 wound up bankrolling the Indy Racing League. Probably primarily because of the prestige, but possibly also due to that large purse, a record 86 cars were on the entry list.
This race was such a big deal that it brought Indy legend A.J. Foyt out of retirement. Foyt was one of two former Indianapolis 500 winners to commpete in the race, the other being Danny Sullivan. That 1994 Brickyard would be Foyt’s final race as a driver in a professioinal-level event.
The idea for the race came win Foyt and track president Tony George took turns behind the wheel of a Winston Cup car at the track in 1991 while Foyt was at the facility filming a Craftsman Tools commercial. The thirst for the marriage between NASCAR and Indy was born.
Fast forward to the 1994 race.
Jimmy Spencer headed into Indy as the most recent Winston Cup race winner, having won at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway the weekend before. The top-five drivers in the points standings heading into Indianapolis were Ernie Irvan, Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader.
Rick Mast qualified on the pole, setting what was at that time, a stock car qualifying record of 172.474 seconds. Gordon qualified third. Seven drivers on the original entry list wound up not making a qualifying attempt, leaving 79 cars to post qualifying times.
Early in the race, Earnhardt scraped the wall and Gordon took the lead. Recent race winner Spencer was the first driver to retire from the race after crashing on lap 10.
Gordon led several laps. Other mainstays in the top-five through the first half of the race included Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and Brett Bodine. At one time in the second half of the race, the Bodine brothers ran first and second. Both drivers spent time in the lead. They made contact with each other in the battle up front, and the contact eventually led to Geoff Bodine wrecking in front of the race field. The incident resulted in a two-year “family feud” after Brett admitted to spinning Geoff out on purpose. The third Bodine brother, Todd Bodine, was also in the race, but he avoided the family squabble.
Wallace was the leader on a restart with 26 laps to go. After racing the leader side-by-side for awhile, Gordon took the lead and Wallace slipped back to seventh. Irvan, soon after, got by Gordon for the lead, and the two traced the lead back and forth a few times for the remainder of the race, that is until Irvan ran over some debris with five laps to go, resulting in a blown tire.
Gordon held off a hard-charging Brett Bodine for the remaining few laps for the win. It was his second-career Cup finish.
The top-10 in the finishing order looked like this:
1. Jeff Gordon
2. Brett Bodine
3. Bill Elliott
4. Rusty Wallace
5. Dale Earnhardt
6. Darrell Waltrip
7. Ken Schrader
8. Michael Waltrip
9. Todd Bodine
10. Morgan Shepherd.
Here’s a video highlighting that memorable NASCAR debut at the Brickyard.
And here’s a link to Jeff Gordon’s trip down memory lane, remembering the historic race.
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– Photo used with permission from Hendrick Motorsports