The Racing Capital
of the World
June 26, 2012 | By Jan Shaffer
Note: This is the second of a series about drivers who competed in the early years of the Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard who no longer compete regularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
He came from the West Coast to Charlotte, N.C., with just the money in his pocket and little else.
But Ernie Irvan struggled up the ladder to make the NASCAR Cup series ranks and make a name for himself before two serious accidents at Michigan forced his retirement at age 40.
The first one, in 1994, was the most serious. His injuries were life-threatening. The second, in 1999, was less devastating but enough because both involved head injuries, which are being scrutinized today by every sport from racing to the NFL. These came in the prime of his career after winning the Daytona 500 in 1991.
“I feel fine,” Irvan said recently from his Charlotte-area home. “I can go out and do anything I want to do. I would love to race, but that’s past. My son, Jared (14), is racing a Ford Focus on a quarter-mile. He’s leading the points this year and won the championship last year.”
Irvan made his mark on the Brickyard 400. He finished second to Dale Jarrett in 1996 and won the pole in 1997 and 1998 among his five Brickyard starts.
“I had every vision in the world of winning the race (in ‘96), and I was in the lead but got beat by DJ,” said Irvan, 53. “It’s an unbelievable racetrack. With everything that’s happened, everything I’ve known about the history, I feel very fortunate to have run what we call the Brickyard.”
In all, Irvan led four of the five races he ran at Indy for 114 laps and recorded three top-10 finishes.
And now, the second generation of Irvans is headed up the ladder on the long road to Indy.