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Top-10 List: First Victories

For these future Hall of Famers, getting their breakthrough first premier series race win was a hugely emotional experience.

In NASCAR racing, as in life, you never forget your first time.

The first 19 races of this premier series season have produced five first-time winners: Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick.

With that in mind, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the most emotional first victories by NASCAR Hall of Famers. In some cases, racers toiled for years to score their breakthrough first victories, a good reminder that determination and perseverance are two traits champions possess.

Here are 10 memorable first premier series race victories by drivers who went on to have Hall of Fame careers.

One of the most historic first NASCAR race wins belonged to Wendell Scott. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Wendell Scott, 1963

A member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015, Danville, Virginia, racer Wendell Scott made history on December 1, 1963, when he became the first Black driver to win a premier series race. Scott’s victory came at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, where he won a 200-lap race. Initially, race officials ruled Buck Baker (2013) won the race, but Scott was later correctly identified as the winner.

The party was on in Victory Lane after Buddy Baker won the 1967 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Buddy Baker, 1967

It took Buddy Baker (2020) a total of 216 races – the equivalent of six full premier series seasons today – to win his first race, but when it was Baker’s time to shine, he came up huge. Baker’s first victory was in the 1967 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he snapped Richard Petty’s (2010) record 10-winning streak. “When I went under the checkered flag, I let out a yell you could have heard in Concord (North Carolina),” said Baker after the race. “This is the greatest day of my life. Maybe it will give me a mental boost. Now I know how to win.”

Richard Childress Racing broke into the victory column for the first time in 1983. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Richard Childress, 1983

What makes for a Hall of Fame career? Perseverance for one thing. Richard Childress (2017) began racing in the premier series as an owner/driver in 1969 before stepping out of the cockpit in mid-1981 to concentrate on the owner side of the business. It took Childress 14 years and 245 starts before his team won its first race at Riverside International Raceway in 1983 with Ricky Rudd at the wheel. Childress went on to win six premier series championships as a car owner with driver Dale Earnhardt (2010).

The fans at Talladega were enthused when rookie Davey Allison won the 1987 Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Davey Allison, 1987

What better place to win your first race than at your home track? Davey Allison’s (2019) victory in the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway) was historic for several reasons. The race weekend began with Bill Elliott (2015) setting an all-time NASCAR speed record by qualifying at 212.809 mph. In the race, Davey’s father, Bobby Allison (2011) had a spectacular airborne crash that directly led to the use of restrictor plates at superspeedways. Later that year, Davey became the first driver since 1949 to win twice as a rookie.

Driving in the wrong direction gave Alan Kulwicki a closer look at his many fans. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Alan Kulwicki, 1988

For months, Wisconsin native Alan Kulwicki (2019) plotted what he would do when he finally won his first premier series race. The world found out in November 1988, when Kulwicki won the Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (now Phoenix Raceway). For his victory lap. Kulwicki turned his Ford Thunderbird around and drove clockwise around the 1-mile track so he could see the faces of his fans in the grandstands. Kulwicki’s self-proclaimed “Polish Victory Lap” made national headlines.

It took nearly two seasons for Mark Martin and Jack Roush to win their first premier series race. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Mark Martin, 1989

The Hall of Fame combo of driver Mark Martin (2017) and car owner Jack Roush (2019) won 35 premier series races together and were one of the sport’s top teams throughout the 1990s. The duo went winless in 1988, their first season together. A year later, Martin had five runner-up finishes in the first 26 races before scoring a breakthrough victory in the AC Delco 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, where Martin led the final 77 laps to win.

Dale Jarrett (No. 21) and Davey Allison made it a Ford Motor Co. 1-2 at Michigan in 1991. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Dale Jarrett, 1991

The finish of the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway featured a thrilling last-lap battle between two Hall of Famers, as Dale Jarrett (2014) out-dragged Davey Allison (2019) to the start-finish line by a mere 8 inches to score his first premier series victory in his 129th start. Jarrett’s triumph was the first for Wood Brothers Racing, the team founded by Glen Wood (2012), since 1987.

Accompanied by friends and family in Victory Lane, Jeff Gordon savored his first victory. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Jeff Gordon, 1994

In his rookie season of 1993, Jeff Gordon (2019) flashed tremendous potential, but he had as many DNFs in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as he did top-10 finishes. In his second season, however, Gordon was able to score his first of 93 career victories in one of NASCAR’s majors, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A bold call by crew chief Ray Evernham (2018) to take just two tires during a late-race pit stop allowed Gordon to defeat Rusty Wallace and earn his first victory. “I’m speechless, man,” Gordon said afterwards. “This is the greatest day of my life.”

In a 1995 battle with his big brother, Terry, Bobby Labonte prevailed in NASCAR’s longest race. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Bobby Labonte, 1995

To this day, Bobby Labonte (2020) still regards his first race victory in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as his most cherished accomplishment, even more than his 2000 premier series championship or his triumphs that season in the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. Labonte’s Coke 600 win was a family affair, as his brother and fellow Hall of Famer Terry Labonte (2016) finished second in the race.

Winning at Texas Motor Speedway as a rookie in 2000 was huge for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his father’s Dale Earnhardt Inc. team. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2000

It took Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021) a whopping 12 races to find Victory Lane for the first time. After running five premier series races in 1999, the third-generation racer won the seventh race of 2000, the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, At the 1.5-mile Texas track, Earnhardt Jr. passed his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Steve Park with 53 laps to go and held on for the remainder of the race to score the first of his 26 career premier-series race victories.

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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