“The straightaways are really long and you build up a lot of speed. You have this tunnel vision, and all you see is wall and grandstands. The corner appears to be extremely tight and extremely narrow – and it is.”
Wow!!!! What a freaking thrill it must be to be able to not only read these words, but to actually live them out on one of America’s most historical tracks that any racing series could ever visit. Jeff Gordon, NASCAR’s version of the Unser family who have nine Indianapolis 500 victories of their own. Just about put NASCAR into a tailspin when asked about what its like to drive a 3800 pound, boxy, unpredictable race car, around a track that was designed for the more narrow, sleek, and the ultra gripping power characteristics of an Indy car.
Gordon, who was born in Vallejo, California farther than a stones throw away from Indianapolis, Indiana where his life long dream lived. Had an ambition to someday get the chance to become an Indy champion. “And earn you that special, gritty kiss with the bricks that’s what we all want,” was the only thought that bounced around Gordon’s mind. Gordon’s family would eventually make the move to where their son could be closer to the real world of racing, which was also a place that had more opportunities for the younger generation driver to make a name for himself.
Even though Gordon was winning championship after championship driving in the U.S.A.C. series, which would have been the stepping stone to a dream he was hoping someday would come true. Gordon instead would make a switch, and decide that NASCAR would probably be the better choice to make his living on. Along with the move, also went his chances of living out his childhood fantasy of becoming an Indy 500 champion.
So as the days and months continued to slowly trickle right by him. Gordon still had his mind set on someday getting the chance to kiss that old set of bricks, which many of his childhood idols had already conquered. It wasn’t until 1994, that Gordon would finally get the chance to test his skills on a track that had been a lifelong dream of his. Tony George was finally going to break tradition, and allow of all things, a stock car onto his hallowed race track. Gordon would take full advantage of the opportunity and win the inaugural Brickyard 400, which is what NASCAR and George decided would be the appropriate name for the race.
Gordon would not only win the inaugural race, but he would add another three wins to go along with his three poles, nine top-fives, 12 top-10's and an 8.6 average finish in 15 starts – all tops among NASCAR drivers at the 2.5-mile track. Gordon would also lead a track record 440 laps – 225 more than his closest competitor. Gordon who will be making his 16th start at the historic eight turn 2.5 mile oval, still talks about how intimidating the track is that he used to stay up late at nights thinking about as a young up and coming driver.
After thousands of competitive laps and four trips to Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, what will Jeff Gordon feel as he takes his first trip around the historic speedway this weekend? Intimidation. “You always snap out of the gas way too early and use too much brake because the corner is intimidating at first. But you realize the track can handle more than that and the car can handle more than that.” “After a few laps, you get back into the groove and regain a level of comfort.”
Jeff Gordon the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has his own agenda when he enters into gasoline alley this weekend. Gordon already knows that he will be the odds on favorite to win this weekend, and there is no other driver that knows how to race this track better than him. “The entry into each of the four corners is different, and I look at the exit of each as a different corner, as well. Exit speed is important, especially leading onto the long straightaways.” Gordon also brings with him many years of racing experience and knowledge, to a track that is unique in its own way and should be treated that way. So it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise if Gordon gets to once again kiss the bricks for NASCAR record fifth time.
“There is no other track like this, and it has four unique corners,” said Gordon, who is second in point standings, 175 behind leader Tony Stewart. While he is the lone stock car driver with four wins at the famed track, Gordon – who grew up in nearby Pittsboro – understands each win here is not the accomplishment of one individual. “More than most race tracks, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is about the team,” said Gordon, “It’s about good communication prior to the race in setting up the car. It’s about the pit crew being solid throughout the race. And it’s about good communication during the race while tuning on the car that will hopefully get you to victory lane.” Im Out
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