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Gordon Prevails in Brickyard 400 : Auto racing: Indianapolis-area driver, 23, had always dreamed of racing at the Motor Speedway.

August 07, 1994|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIANAPOLIS — The Good Ol' Boys of NASCAR brought their stock car show to the home of the Indianapolis 500 for the first time Saturday, only to have a slip of a youth from Indiana steal the show.

Jeff Gordon, who turned 23 Thursday and grew up dreaming of racing in the 500, fought off Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan in one of the most exciting finishes in Indianapolis Motor Speedway's storied history to win the Brickyard 400.

Six lead changes, Wallace from Gordon, Gordon back again, Irvan from Gordon, Gordon back again, then Irvan again and Gordon for the final time when Irvan had a flat tire, kept the sellout crowd of nearly 300,000 on its feet through the final 28 laps of the inaugural Winston Cup race.

Gordon earned a NASCAR record $613,000, more than double the previous record of $294,450 won by Kyle Petty in 1990 at Rockingham, N.C.

"To me, this is the Indy 500 for stock car racing," said Gordon, who lives in Pittsboro, a suburb of Indianapolis. "When I went to

NASCAR (from open-wheeled racing), I pretty much felt like my shot at driving at Indianapolis was gone. I thought I'd kissed it goodby.

"Then to come here in a stock car and win, it's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. I had to take an extra lap to let my emotions go, I was yelling so loud over the radio. I didn't want to come in and hyperventilate like I did at Charlotte."

Gordon won his first Winston Cup race last May 28, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, N.C., the same day as the Indianapolis 500, and was so overcome with emotion that he collapsed during the post-race celebrating.

At the end Saturday, the race came down to a Chevrolet vs. Ford duel between two drivers who spent their formative years in Northern California, Gordon in Vallejo and Irvan in Salinas. Gordon's family moved to Pittsboro after Jeff was barred from racing professionally in California because he was too young.

"The way Ernie and me were swapping the lead, if his tire hadn't gone down, we would have come right down to the checkered flag side by side," Gordon said.

Brett Bodine, after surviving a tag-team duel with brother Geoff in a family feud played out at 180 m.p.h., finished second, .53 seconds behind. Bill Elliott, Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip, Todd Bodine and Morgan Shepherd followed as only 9.3 seconds separated the first and 10th finishers.

Gordon led 93 of the 160 laps after taking the lead from pole-sitter Rick Mast on the second lap when Earnhardt, the six-time series champion and pre-race favorite, scraped the wall in the fourth turn and had to pit for new tires.

Thirteen drivers led and A.J. Foyt almost made it 14. Foyt was running second, behind Ted Musgrave, waiting for the leader to pit. But Foyt miscalculated and ran out of gas. By the time he coasted in, he had lost a lap and was never again a factor in what was his 36th race at Indianapolis.

Four accidents kept the average speed down to 131.932 m.p.h. as 25 laps were run under caution, but the accident involving the Bodine brothers did the most damage--physically and sociologically.

Brett Bodine had taken the lead on lap 96 when brother Geoff came up behind him, gave him a tap and then drove underneath to take the lead. Once he got ahead, however, he seemed to hesitate and Brett hit him in the rear end.

Geoff's Ford started to lose traction and when he tried to make a correction, the 3,800-pound car got away from him. It first hit the wall, then rebounded in the middle of the track and did a complete spin. Only Dale Jarrett got caught in the tangle as the rest of the field escaped, a number of them by driving down the pit road.

"We are in the midst of a personal feud and he (Brett) took it out on the race track," Geoff Bodine said. "I still love him, but he spun me out.'

Said Brett: "My car got loose and I got into him. That's all. No way I would ever do anything deliberate on the race track. I was trying to win this race, that's all. He got into me and got by and when I tried to get back by, I got into him. I got into the gas hard, he must have left off, and I ran into the back of him."

The third and youngest Bodine brother, Todd, had another family view: "They're supposed to race clean, but they're just big babies. If they want to be jerks, they can be jerks. That's what they were today. I ain't a part of the feud."

Geoff led 24 laps, Brett 10 and Todd one, marking the first time three brothers had led the same Winston Cup race.

Darrell Waltrip, who races against brother Michael, said such shenanigans wouldn't go in the Waltrip family.

"If me and Michael did that, Leroy (their father) would be waiting for us when we got out of our race car."

Gordon's closest brush with disaster came with Geoff Bodine on lap 66.

"I was getting ready to come in (the pits) and Geoff was coming out," Gordon said. "I knew he was going to be faster than me, because he had on new tires. I waved my hand to let him know I was coming into the pits, but I don't know what he was thinking. He tried to go to the inside and that's where I was.

"It was very close. We actually rubbed, and it bent our left front fender. It could have been real bad, but when it wasn't, that's when you know it's your day, that the guy upstairs is on your side."

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