Larry Mac: Indianapolis Motor Speedway special from the start
Jul 24, 2014 at 10:15a ET
I always look forward to this week. Going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway truly is breathtaking no matter how many times you go there. I was extremely fortunate to be one of the original nine teams that went there in June of 1992 for the very first tire test where NASCAR Sprint Cup cars were at the Brickyard.
It really was unique for our car owner Robert Yates, driver Davey Allison and me because we had just won the Michigan race two days earlier. Honestly we were late getting to town on Monday because we were still a little blurry-eyed and many had headaches left over from the celebration of our win.
Believe me, I have been fortunate to see and do a lot of things in my racing career, but that first Tuesday at Indy was pretty darn intimidating. The initial feeling was overwhelming and for a brief bit of time I had that "do we really belong here?" question in my gut. I mean let's face it, this place is the hallowed ground of IndyCars where the names Foyt, Unser, Andretti and so many others permeate the air.
The fan turnout was simply incredible on a cold Tuesday in June. To hear the nine cars rumble to life and watch them come down that long front stretch for the very first time still gives me goose bumps thinking about it. Now I am a guy who lives, breaths and sleeps racing. Being at the race track no matter whether it is practice, qualifying or the race itself is still exciting to me even after all these years in the sport.
There are three times a year that excitement is even greater. The first one is in February when you hear "Drivers, start your engines" for the Daytona 500 simply because not only is that our version of the Super Bowl, but also it means a brand new season is starting. The other time is when we go to Bristol in August. The race normally gets going about twilight and when those cars come off the high banks for the green flag it's like 200,000 flashbulbs all going off at once.
Naturally, the third one is the Brickyard 400. There is simply nothing like the feeling watching all 43 cars come rumbling off Turn 4 and come down that very long straightaway and then in unison all roar to full speed taking the green flag. It's simply breath-taking. If it's even possible for me to get more excited about NASCAR racing, those are the three moments that take my excitement to another level.
I will say going there for the first race actually was extremely sad. We had gone to Indy twice to test with Davey. Unfortunately about a year before we ran the Brickyard 400 for the very first time, as we all know, my best friend was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega, so Davey never got to live out his dream of racing at the Brickyard.
Ernie Irvan was our driver when it came time to race there the first time. Some of you probably remember the tight, tense and dramatic closing laps. Honestly, I think we had Jeff Gordon beat. Both Ernie and Jeff had swapped the lead back and forth but in listening to the radio communication, Ernie had figured out how to make Jeff loose and I really thought we had him.
Ernie had a plan for Jeff in the last couple closing laps but unfortunately with less than 20 laps to go, we cut a right front tire down. As the record books show, Jeff Gordon went on to win the inaugural race.
I still have the pictures in my shop from that very first test. There is one picture with all nine cars lined up with the drivers standing by their cars. Then they took individual pictures of each car and their driver. I look at them every time I walk in the shop and they still hold a very special place in my heart.