Because Jeff Gordon needs another million dollars about as much
as he needs another pair of designer sunglasses, winning the
biggest purse in the history of auto racing$1,637,625 in last
Saturday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedwayhardly
fazed him. Oh, he paid it his typically polite lip service. But a
richer reward was the nearly unanimous and thunderous approval of
the 350,000 fans in attendance at Indy. Such shows of affection
have been the only thing missing from Gordon's wondrous NASCAR
Erstwhile Hoosier Gordon showed Indy fans that he
appreciated their cheering.
At most stops on the Winston Cup tour, especially at Southern
tracks, the booing of Gordon's successes and the cheering of his
failures (even his crashes) have reached the point of cruelty.
But this time, back home again in IndianaHoosiers claim
California-native Gordon because he lived in the Indianapolis
suburb of Pittsboro as a teenage sprint car driverGordon could
not have heard the smattering of boos, for they were buried under
an avalanche of cheers that only Indy, with its massive
grandstands, could have bestowed. "After the race was over, as I
drove down pit road, I shut the engine off, because I just had to
hear it," said Gordon. "I don't hear a roar like that anywhere
The Brickyard 400 draws fans from around the country, but the
pro-Gordon sentiment at Indy is such that "it's almost like even
the people who come from outside Indiana start cheering for you,"
he says. For this race, at least, the black-clad disciples of
Dale Earnhardt and other assorted Gordon-haters simply gave up
the cause and accepted that Gordon, whom they sarcastically call
Wonder Boy, has become NASCAR's irresistible force.
The prize money, $1 million of which was a bonus Gordon received
for winning a NASCAR major after finishing in the top five in the
previous major (he won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May),
shot his career winnings past $20 million and his average payday
for each of the 175 Winston Cup races he has entered to a
series-record $115,985. That's money per start, not per win.
Earnhardt, second in the category, has averaged $54,641 in 593
starts. Earnhardt still leads in career winnings, with $32.4
million, but is in his 20th season while Gordon is in his sixth.
Gordon's sum last Saturday surpassed Arie Luyendyk's single-race
world record of $1,568,150 at the 1997 Indy 500. Formula One pays
appearance rather than prize money, and no other purse in NASCAR,
CART or sports car racing has approached what Gordon won at Indy.
The victory was Gordon's second in a row, his third in four races
and his sixth of the season. He increased his points lead to 72
and has clearly hit his stride as he pursues a second straight
season title and his third in four years. Perhaps the most
telling sight of the day was that of a lone Earnhardt fan
standing amid the jubilant throng and thrusting his right middle
finger in the air in the direction of the checkered flag as
Gordon passed beneath it. But the guy wasn't booing. Perhaps he'd
learned to save his breath.
Issue date: August 10, 1998