Countdown To The 20th Running: The 1994 Brickyard 400
Last week, Jeff Gordon was asked about the very first 1994 Brickyard 400. All of 23 years old at the time, Gordon conquered NASCAR’s inaugural trip to the Brickyard – the second win of a career that now counts 87 victories.
His first-person account is below…
"The biggest struggles were the battle that I had with Ernie Irvan. He was putting up a heck of a fight. I look at that race as a battle of horsepower. That year we didn’t know all the aerodynamics and things about trying to get these cars stuck in the corners the way that we do today.
"The cars really were loose out in clean air, pretty good in behind other cars, which is funny because now we are all quite the opposite. The Yates power, Hendrick power went head to head so we swapped the lead back and forth many times just because the way that my car would get too loose when I got in front of Ernie (Irvan) and he could really get a run on me and draft and pass me down the straightaway.
"Then he would get out front, get loose and I would get a run off of him and do the same thing. It was really coming down to who was going to position themselves to make that sling shot or could they maintain the lead on that last lap and then he had the right-front tire problem.
"Initially, I was kind of relieved because I didn’t want to have to battle with Ernie (Irvan) all the way to the finish because I wanted to win it. I didn’t know if I could with him out there. I was pretty relieved and I said, ‘Okay we’ve got this thing now. … No cautions.’ Then Brett Bodine came on like gangbusters the last two laps and just was running us down. I think I just used up my tires battling with Ernie (Irvan) so much that I just didn’t have anything left. Brett (Bodine) had been back there just kind of cruising and he was coming fast. I was glad there weren’t too many more laps."
The below stories and excerpts were used from "Brickyard 400 Five Years of NASCAR at Indy," an official publication of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Date: August 6, 1994
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Race Winner: Jeff Gordon
Pole Winner: Rick Mast
This is the one that started it all. After opening in 1909, Indianapolis Motor Speedway had finally hosted a NASCAR race. The inaugural winner was a perfect fit – Jeff Gordon, a driver who grew up in Indiana and had always dreamed of winning at the historic track.
The historic weekend began on Thursday, when H. B. Bailey became the first driver to make an official NASCAR qualifying lap around the IMS.
Rick Mast won the pole and led the first two laps. By the end of the race, a dozen other drivers had swapped the lead 21 times. They included Jeff Gordon, Ernie Irvan, all three of the Bodine brothers – Geoff, Brett, and Todd – Greg Sacks, Dale Earnhardt, Ted Musgrave, Lake Speed, Harry Gant, and Rusty Wallace. But, Gordon was clearly the class of the field, leading seven times for 93 of the 160 laps. The only other drivers to lead more than one time were Geoff Bodine (twice for 24 laps) and Irvan (twice for 11 laps).
After starting 17th, Irvan relentlessly worked his way toward the front. He became a serious contender when he caught Rusty Wallace and wrestled away the lead for the first time at Lap 140. He led for five laps, yielded to Gordon for the next five, then powered back into the lead at Lap 150. He seemed to have the race well in-hand until his luck ran out. His Robert Tates-owned No. 28 Ford Thunderbird cut down a right-front tire and began to slow with six laps remaining. Gordon had no trouble driving past and went on to beat Brett Bodine by slightly more than a half-second. Bill Elliot, Rusty Wallace, and Dale Earnhardt rounded out the top five.
Emotions ran high for the victorious Gordon and his family. He had grown up in Pittsboro, Indiana, just west of Indianapolis, and spent his formative years in open-wheel, open-cockpit cars at nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park.
"I’ve always dreamed of winning at this speedway," said Gordon, "but I never thought I’d get the chance when I went to NASCAR instead of Indy cars. This is amazing to win the first NASCAR race at a place that has all this tradition and history. This is something else, I’ll tell you that."