There is an unwritten rule in NASCAR prohibiting drivers from dating the Winston models. Sealey had intended to abide by it. But "in Victory Lane," she says, "we were winking at each other." Later in the garage area, "he came up to me, and his little voice was just shaking. He was trying to talk to me, making the excuse that nobody else in racing was our age." (Sealey is a year older than Gordon.)
They began a season of high but separate visibility at the tracks and secret rendezvous away from them. Several times when they were together at restaurants, Sealey had to duck into kitchens and out back doors when other racers happened in. Once as Gordon and Sealey were about to board a flight together, Darrell Waltrip's team arrived at the gate. Sealey slipped away and had to wait two hours for another flight. As for race weekends, says Gordon, "I am now a master at sneaking in and out of hotels."
The NASCAR crowd, a gossipy lot, buzzed all season about the handsome young driver who should have been a magnet for women but never seemed to have a date. "Earnhardt asked if I was gay," says Gordon. The mouths also wondered why Sealey didn't have a boyfriend and didn't bring dates to social functions. Yet the gossips never seemed to link the two juiciest items of the season.
At the NASCAR awards banquet in New York that December, Gordon was honored as Rookie of the Year, with record first-year winnings of $765,000, and Sealey's season as Miss Winston officially ended. After the banquet they revealed their romance and left the gossips gaping.
At Daytona the following February, a year to the day from the couple's Victory Lane encounter of 1993, Gordon reserved a huge private room at a French restaurant. Sealey was baffled when just the two of them were seated. There Gordon proposed, and she accepted.
Before they married, in November, however, there was the matter of Gordon's second season to get through. His first Winston Cup win came on May 29 in one of the biggest races on the tour, the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. He was 22. And on Aug. 6, two days after turning 23, he won the richest stock car race ever, the inaugural Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, collecting a $613,000 paycheck.
This season Gordon's three victories—in Rockingham, Atlanta and Bristol, Tenn.—were runaways. He was cake-walking toward another win, in Darlington, S.C., when he was unavoidably caught up in a wreck caused by others. And a mishap during a pit stop cost him an excellent shot at winning the Daytona 500. In the most recent race of this season, at North Wilkesboro, N.C., on April 9, Gordon started on the pole, but a worn right rear tire left him second to Earnhardt at the finish.
Even with the most spectacular start of any NASCAR career under his belt, Gordon says, "I don't sit and think, Man, can I win seven championships, or 10 championships? I'm just going for that first one. I don't sit back and go, Man, what a storybook. It's just a big blur."