Charlotte Motor Speedway Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Jeff Gordon's First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Win
Charlotte Motor Speedway officials on Wednesday celebrated future NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon and his iconic first win, which came 20 years ago at the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994, with a special event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where Gordon's winning car now sits on Glory Road.
Click here to watch highlights from Gordon's first Cup Series win at the 1994 Coca-Cola 600.
"Winning the 600 so early in his career is like a golfer going to Augusta and getting his first win at the Masters," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "He showed an unimaginable level of grit and determination for a 22-year-old, and little did we know how many more times we'd see that familiar face in Victory Lane over the next 20 years."
To mark the milestone, Smith presented Gordon with a collage of Gordon's memorable moments from the past two decades at Charlotte Motor Speedway. During his 21-year career, Gordon has recorded five points-paying wins (in 42 starts) and three NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race wins at the legendary 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Looking back on his historic first Cup win, Gordon remembered the flood of emotions that came in Victory Circle.
"You really never know what you are capable of doing until you accomplish it," Gordon said. "So every step of the way that I would go up to the next level and when you win for the first time you are elated and overwhelmed sort of at the same time."
Notching his first win at NASCAR's ultimate test of man and machine - the only 600-mile event on the schedule - added to the elation.
"People look at it as one of the toughest races to win, especially because of its length," Gordon said. "When you look at tough places to get a win, I think a lot of people would think of the old Darlington as one of the toughest and I would say Charlotte is right up there with it as well, especially the 600."
It was Gordon's crew chief, Ray Evernham, whose call for a two-tire pit stop late in the race helped the young driver build the cushion he needed to hold off a hard-charging Rusty Wallace.
At the time, it was generally accepted that a driver would receive four fresh tires on every pit stop. However, Evernham's crew broke from the norm and performed only a two-tire change. That night it was described as a gamble by fellow competitors and the media. However, now 20 years later, the savvy Evernham said it wasn't a gamble at all, but rather a planned move.
"We had actually tested that in practice," Evernham said. "I knew exactly how far two tires would go. I knew exactly how much time we would lose per lap, and I knew exactly what pressure changes were made. It was something I was playing with for a while."
In the end, the gamble paid off, and ended with a teary-eyed Gordon celebrating in Victory Circle.
"I was there in Victory Lane that night," Smith said. "I felt those chills and goose bumps. I don't think anybody knew that that was the beginning of a dynasty. That's a big word, but that's what you represent and that's where it started, 20 years ago."
In the two decades since, Gordon has amassed 88 Sprint Cup Series points wins, ranking third all-time behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). His four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships puts him fourth on the list of all-time champions, trailing only Richard Petty (7), Dale Earnhardt (7) and Jimmie Johnson (6).
With packages starting at just $99, fans can experience all the action and excitement that surrounds Coca-Cola 600 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Coca-Cola 600 Weekend Pass. The package includes tickets to see the stars of NASCAR hit the track to lay down the fastest lap during LiftMaster Pole Night on Thursday, May 22; a Saturday afternoon showdown as the NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers battle it out in the HISTORY 300 on May 24; and culminating with the historic 55th running of one of NASCAR's most prestigious events, the Cola-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 25.
Keep up with all the latest news from the speedway by liking Charlotte Motor Speedway on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CharlotteMotorSpeedway or following on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cltmotorspdwy.