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From The Vault: 1994 Coca-Cola 600

Jeff Gordon’s first premier series victory launched a career that would see him win 93 races, four championships and place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019.

Editor’s note: We celebrate Jeff Gordon’s 1994 Coca-Cola 600 victory with photos from the NASCAR Hall of Fame Permanent Collection that were donated to us by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Jeff Gordon wept.

Sitting in Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway after scoring his first premier series race victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, tears flowed freely for the 22-year-old racer from Vallejo, California.

“I’m speechless, man,” Gordon said from the cockpit of his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Lumina. “I mean this is the greatest day of my life.”

A crowd of more than 200,000 people filled Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 1994 Coca-Cola 600.

Little did anyone know at the time, but Gordon’s victory, which came in his 42nd career premier start, would be the first of 93 race wins, third all-time behind Hall of Famers Richard Petty (2010) and David Pearson (2011) who won 200 and 105 races, respectively.

Nor did anyone know Gordon would win four premier series championships, start a record 797 consecutive races and be part of a Hall of Fame trio that would see team owner Rick Hendrick inducted in 2017, along with crew chief Ray Evernham in 2018 and Gordon himself in 2019.

For Gordon, the winning began on a warm Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte in 1994.

Jeff Gordon started from the pole in his rainbow-colored No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

At the 1.5-mile speedway, Gordon qualified on the pole for NASCAR’s longest race, turning a fast lap of 181.439 miles per hour, That was good enough for him to earn the top spot ahead of Joe Nemechek.

Led by the front row of Jeff Gordon on the pole and Joe Nemechek on the outside, the field roared towards the green flag.

Although he started from the pole and led the first lap, Gordon did not dominate at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading just 16 of 400 laps. The two drivers who spent the most time on point were Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace (2013), who led 187 laps in a Ford owned by Roger Penske (2019), and Geoffrey Bodine, leader of 101 laps in his own Ford.

Fast pit stops by the Hendrick Motorsports “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew kept the No. 24 Chevrolet up front all race long.

As often happens in NASCAR, the race came down the final pit stop with the three leaders still very much in contention for the victory. Strategy and a bold call by crew chief Evernham proved to be the difference.

Dale Earnhardt (No. 3) and Ricky Rudd (No. 10) both posted top-10 finished but didn’t have enough speed to win.

Leader Wallace pitted on Lap 375 of 400, taking a load of fuel and four fresh tires. Four laps later, Bodine did likewise, opting for four Goodyears and fuel.

But when Gordon made his final stop on Lap 381, crew chief Evernham opted to take just two tires and pick up critical track position ahead of Wallace and Bodine. Once the last round of stops cycled through, Gordon inherited the lead and easily pulled away over the final 9 laps, finishing 3.91 seconds ahead of Wallace, with Bodine third.

An emotional Jeff Gordon climbed from his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after his first race victory.

“I’m feeling higher than I’ve ever felt before,” Gordon said in Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “If there’s a higher feeling than this, I don’t know what it is. It’s got to be in the afterlife.”

A trio of Hall of Famers in Victory Lane after the 1994 Coca-Cola 600: Car owner Rick Hendrick (from left), driver Jeff Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham.

For his part, crew chief Evernham said the winning two-tire stop was thought out in advance.

“Jeff was running pretty easy and we wanted to see what Rusty did when he pitted,” said the Hall of Fame crew chief after the race. “We were planning on making just a two-tire change and if the others changed two tires, we just would have had to race them hard. But when they all took on four tires that made the decision an easy one for us.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Plan your visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and purchase tickets by visiting nascarhall.com/tickets.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a veteran of more than 20 years in the NASCAR media industry.

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