Jeff Gordon's first of three victories in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was rife with controversy.
None of the controversy had anything to do with Gordon, mind you. It was what happened with some of the drivers who weren't as fortunate.
Actually, the first shocker came before the race when Dale Earnhardt and his car owner Richard Childress showed up at Charlotte Motor Speedway not with the familiar black No. 3 Chevrolet, but a silver one, a tribute to the silver anniversary of series sponsor R.J. Reynolds in NASCAR.
In those days, special paint schemes were a rarity, and fans, media and other race teams alike were stunned that Earnhardt and Childress would eschew the familiar -- and ominous -- jet black colors for a hue more commonly found on Honda Accords than on an RCR race car.
But the real drama was on the track.
In the race, Gordon avoided a multi-car accident to become the youngest winner in history of the race then known simply as The Winston Select.
While Gordon, just 23 years old at the time, was understandably jubilant in Victory Lane, tempers flared among those not as lucky as the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet.
It was two old rivals, Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, who crashed racing for the victory, with Earnhardt going three-wide on the bottom of the backstretch to pass leader Gordon then losing control in Turns 3 and 4, where he drifted up into Waltrip taking both of them out.
In the pre-SAFER barrier days, Earnhardt and Waltrip both were shaken up afterwards, though neither man was seriously injured.
"I got clear of Jeff," Waltrip said. "And Dale came up and he just kept coming and coming and coming and finally it broke loose. Then bam! He was going to run me out of room and I guess he thought I would lift. Guess what? He was wrong. Maybe I should have backed off and let Dale dive up in front of me, but you can't do that in the Winston."
"We drove into Turn 1 hard and Darrell kind of took the air off me," Gordon said. "Then Dale came on strong and they both went by me. I was caught in the middle and it wasn't looking good going down the backstretch. After they wrecked, I had to worry about Sterling (Marlin, the second-place finisher)."
Jimmy Spencer and Ken Schrader were also involved in an accident early in the race. "I appreciate all R.J. Reynolds does for racing," said Schrader. "But those people have got to wake up and look at that idiot they have in their car. He (Spencer) ain't doing them no good."
Replied Spencer, "You mess with the bull and you get the horns."
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