It’s difficult to find a track that four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon hasn’t excelled at in his career spanning over two decades. From Daytona’s Superspeedway to Martinsville’s Short Track, Gordon has made his mark with countless wins. He is, of course, third on the all-time win list trailing only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) with his 92 wins. But of all of the tracks in the 36 week long season it is Indianapolis Motor Speedway that I think of when I remember Jeff Gordon.
Gordon came onto the NASCAR Cup scene at a time when older drivers were dominating, two of the sport’s biggest stars – Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison – had tragically died, and a revolution was beginning.
NASCAR’s reach into Middle America had begun, television rights to the sport were commanding bigger contracts worth tons of money, and new fans were attracted to the racing in droves.
Gordon, with his fresh, young good looks, non-Southern accent, and impressive driving skills coupled with his ease in front of the camera made him a natural for fans, especially new ones, to gravitate to and root for on Sunday afternoon.
He certainly had his detractors, old school fans who found the upstart snotty, too big for his britches, and a bunch of other non-flattering accounts of the young phenom, but Gordon’s talent could not be denied.
When the news came that NASCAR would finally be given the opportunity to hold an important race at the country’s – and arguably the world’s – most important track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, conjecture began instantly on who would win the inaugural event.
Rick Mast took the pole with pride and excitement in that summer of 1994. People bandied names around like Earnhardt, Wallace, Elliott and Waltrip for the win. But when Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag he solidified the validity of his career forevermore.
Not long after that win my father, knowing my husband and I were NASCAR fans, found a plague commemorating Gordon’s win at the inaugural Brickyard 400 run on August 6, 1994, complete with picture of the young driver and a very cool stamp of a vintage Indy car. It was an interesting collectible he gifted to us and one that, unfortunately, my husband and I being Dale Earnhardt fans and not one for collecting, didn’t have the foresight to see its intrinsic value or historic worth.
We sold the piece at a garage sale a few years later.
But I have never forgotten Gordon’s greatness, as that win was the start of ascension of a career to NASCAR Hall of Fame standing.
Gordon returns to Indy this weekend to run the 22nd Brickyard 400, a race he not only won for its first contest, but also in 1998, 2001, 2004, and most recently in 2014. As defending race champion Jeff Gordon is a possible shoe-in for race winner this year. He’s currently running 10th in points coming into Sunday’s race. A win at the Brickyard would put him in this year’s Chase automatically. If Gordon is to make his presence known as a 2015 championship contender, Indy is the place.