Indy's Special Memories
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on July 22, 2014 | 5:23 P.M. EST
Dale Jarrett celebrates in Victory Lane with his father Ned after winning the 1996 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo: Getty Imgaes)
Winning the Brickyard 400 proved to be a momentous occasion for three of the most famous drivers in NASCAR history.
Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte all cherish their victories in the race, which will run for the 21st time Sunday at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jarrett, a NASCAR Hall of Famer who won the race in 1996 and 1999, actually added to the race’s legacy when he and his team were the first to “kiss the bricks” after his first win. The tradition continues today.
“It's something I would like to take all the credit for,” Jarrett joked. “But it was something that (crew chief) Todd Parrott and I talked about doing if we were fortunate enough to be able to win at the Brickyard. So it's something we discussed.”
Jarrett admitted the idea was nearly lost in the confusion and excitement of actually winning the race.
“To be quite honest, when I got into Victory Lane, I had kind of totally forgot about it,” he said. “I was enjoying being in a Victory Lane that I'd seen so many great champions be there and be a part of. I was just enjoying the scenery, so to speak.
“Todd grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, remember what we talked about?’ It wasn't until then that I remembered that we were going to do something a little different. We hadn't told any of the crew or anything like that. So we just told them to follow us and went out and had our time on the yard of bricks.”
And with that a tradition on par with the Indy 500 winner drinking milk in Victory Lane was born.
“It's pretty cool now to see that every race winner and their teams’’ do it, Jarrett said. “To even see the guys that win the Indy 500 go out and be a part of it, it's pretty cool to know you started a tradition that will probably carry on for a long time.”
Rudd won in 1997 and still considers the day a highlight of not just his racing career but of his life.
“For me it's definitely the biggest win of my career,” said Rudd, who combined a fast racecar with fuel strategy for his victory. “I was never fortunate enough to be able to win at Daytona. I'd probably put them in that order, Daytona out front. Right in there would be Indy. If I wasn't able to win Daytona, at least I got Indy.”
In a way Rudd says his Brickyard win brought him back to the roots of his driving career.
“It meant a lot to me,’’ he said. “Just my original kind of the way I got started in go‑karting, I was originally looking to go IndyCar racing. It didn't work out at the time. Then to be able to have the fortune to be able to win there, that was a big day, a big day that I'll remember for probably the rest of my life.”
Labonte’s 2000 win was part of a stellar season that culminated in the series championship. He was a member of Joe Gibbs Racing and believes his Indianapolis victory was a key ingredient to building momentum that carried Labonte to the title.
“It seemed like that was kind of the trend for a lot of guys for a few years,” Labonte said. “It seemed like if you won the Brickyard, you ended up winning the championship. We definitely had what we felt like was momentum on our side. Just that race there and being able to win it with our guys, we were on a roll. That just really boosted our confidence up more than we ever could imagine.”
All three drivers agree that winning Indianapolis was not just a highlight of stellar careers but also a dream come true.
“Kind of like Ricky said, Daytona you kind of put first, then the Brickyard is probably second,” said Labonte. “When we left that evening, I mean, I just felt so good. Definitely I think it propelled us to the rest of the season to win the championship that year.”