By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Every race car driver grows up dreaming of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, however for NASCAR drivers that was an unobtainable goal… That is until 1994.
For the first time in the storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, stock cars rolled through gasoline ally to duke it out for victory on one of, if not the most prestigious race track in the world.
To just give you an idea of how big of a deal this race was, 85 drivers… that’s right 85 drivers attempted to qualify for the 43 spots in this race. The man who was able to knock down the first ever pole in a NASCAR race at Indy was Rick Mast. Mast was joined on the front row by Dale Earnhardt, while youngster Jeff Gordon would start third. Geoff Bodine and Bobby Labonte would roll off from the fourth and fifth positions.
Other notable starters included: Terry Labonte (21st), Darrell Waltrip (27th), and A.J. Foyt (40th) made his final appearance in NASCAR in this race, yet he wouldn’t be a factor finishing in 30th.
This is a race that had it all, a breathtaking battle to lead lap one, a family feud, and a future NASCAR legend in victory lane.
Dale Earnhardt wanted so badly to lead lap one of this race. He made it no secret that he wanted to be the first NASCAR driver to do anything at Indianapolis, as he nearly crashed Rusty Wallace in a tire test at the track just months earlier so he could say that he was the first NASCAR driver to complete a lap at the Speedway.
Earnhardt pushed his car to the limit on lap one, however he would brush the wall, and come up short in leading the first lap of the race. Rick Mast would hold the top-spot for the first two laps. It was at this point that Indiana-native Jeff Gordon would go to the front.
On the day Gordon would lead the most laps by pacing 93 of the 160 circuits.
Geoff, Brett, and Todd Bodine would all lead laps on the day, however the brother with the best shot at victory was Geoff. The oldest Bodine ran well all day long, until his brother Brett made contact with him, which crashed both Geoff and Dale Jarrett out of the race. This incident would create turmoil inside the family, and Geoff actually wouldn’t talk to Brett for over a year.
With Bodine out of contention it looked like the race was coming down to a battle with Jeff Gordon and Ernie Irvan.
Irvan and Gordon would swap the lead back and forth over the final stretch of the event, until Gordon finally nabbed the spot for good on lap 156, when Irvan would wiggle in turn one. Irvan wouldn’t be able to mount a challenge as he would have a tire let go moments later.
Benny Parsons who helped call the race that day exclaimed, “The right front tire went flat on the 28 car.”
This meant that second-place would be decided between Brett Bodine and Bill Elliott, and that the race would be Gordon’s to lose.
Bodine would hold off Elliott for second, which would be his final top-five finish of his NASCAR career, and would come up just half of a second shy of winning the inaugural Brickyard 400.
The victory marked the second of Jeff Gordon’s young career.
On his victory lap Gordon shouted to the crew on his radio, “Oh my god, I did it, I did it, I did it!”
In victory lane Gordon explained that it was a sigh of relief when Geoff Bodine dropped out of the race.
“Oh man, what a battle. We had a great car all day long, and the only car I had to worry about was that 7 car (Geoff Bodine). I saw him have his misfortunes and I thought well all we have to do is be nice and smooth from here.” Gordon said in victory lane.
Gordon would continue by saying how wrong he was to think that he had the race won at that point.
“That wasn’t true. We had a caution and Ernie (Irvan) and the 2 (Rusty Wallace) were right there. I pulled away, but Ernie kept loosening me up, so I’d let him go by and I’d get on him. Eat his tires up and loosen him up and he’d let me go by.” Gordon said.
Just one year later Gordon would nab his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Bill Elliott finished third, while Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt rounded out the top-five finishers.
In all the race had 21 lead changes between 13 drivers. After the amazing show that was put on that day it was apparent NASCAR would remain a fixture at Indianapolis for years to come.