Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become a tough sell among NASCAR fans.
Once considered a crown jewel on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour, the Brickyard 400 – this year referred to as the “Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard” – has become nothing more than another date on the schedule.
The event, held in the sweltering summer heat during the last week of July, no longer receives any more hype than the races that precede it. The speedway, a monstrous 2.5-mile rectangle that holds upwards of 400,000 fans, looks barren and desolate when only 70,000 spectators come to partake in NASCAR’s return each year, serving as the biggest highlight to the series’ declining fanbase.
Fans can’t be blamed for failing to attend. While a great facility, Indianapolis doesn’t offer any seating section that can see the entire track. The best views it does offer, mostly coming in the entrance to the track’s four turns, come at a cost of well over $100 per seat. When the fans eventually work their way from their parking spot to their seats, they’re left to watch a glorified parade. Drivers get stuck two to three car-lengths behind their competitors, unable to pass due to the dreaded aero push on the nearly-flat oval.
NASCAR attempted to bolster the weekend by inviting over the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (formerly Grand-Am) and the Xfinity Series, but both events have floundered, garnering small audiences and taking away from the prestige of Sunday’s Cup race.
It’s hard to believe, but the Brickyard 400 is only 21 years old. Just two decades ago the race was one of, if not the, biggest event on the schedule. Teams put all of their efforts into making the 400-mile race – then ran in the early weeks of August – with a NASCAR-record 85 entrants fighting for 43 positions in the inaugural event.
Everyone remembers the tale of the inaugural 400. Jeff Gordon, then a hotshot sophomore with one win to his name surprised everyone, putting on a dominant display and winning the first event in front of his hometown fans. Gordon, who lived in Pittsboro, Ind. during his teenage years as he worked his way through the racing ranks, came out of his vintage DuPont No. 24 Chevrolet, tears streaming down his face, as he tried to grasp the tremendous feat he’d just accomplished.
Any true NASCAR fan knows the tale of Gordon’s first victory. The race was brought up ad nauseum coming into Indy last summer as the 20th anniversary of the event came and passed. Gordon’s win came up even more when the four-time champion pulled off a fairy tale fifth victory at the Speedway, Ind. circuit that weekend.
Everyone remembers Gordon’s triumph. However, lost in the history books is the statement win that came just a year later when Dale Earnhardt pulled his trademark black No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet into Victory Lane.
Earnhardt, then 44, had already made history in 1994 when a dominant four-win campaign saw the Kannapolis, N.C. native hoist up his record-tying seventh championship trophy. Earnhardt was overjoyed at his accomplishment, but knew that he had still failed at two of his biggest goals.
He hadn’t won the Daytona 500, and he hadn’t won the Brickyard 400.
By that point, Earnhardt’s struggles in the Daytona 500 were common knowledge. He’d come close several times, even leading the race’s final lap into turn 3 in 1990, when a flat tire prevented him from claiming a career-defining triumph and instead gave the win to Derrike Cope (who discussed his victory with Frontstretch last week).
Earnhardt’s Daytona heartbreak was well-documented. However, not many remembered just how bad Dale wanted to win the first Brickyard 400. Only those closest to him, such as car owner Richard Childress and fueler Danny “Chocolate” Myers, knew of the drive he had to return and win at America’s most prestigious track.
“I know how bad we wanted to win the first race up there,” said Childress, whose Richard Childress Racing organization continues to field drivers in the Sprint Cup and Xfinity series today. “I remember when we went to test, he and Rusty Wallace raced to see who would would make the first lap in a stock car. If I’m not mistaken, Rusty might’ve been able to do it, but there was always a race for Dale Earnhardt whenever he went anywhere.”
“When we first started going up there, it was HUGE,” said Myers, who was one of the leaders of Earnhardt’s famed “Flying Aces” pit crew. “When you walked in there, it was like ‘man!,’ you’ve gotta think about all the history. You’ve gotta think about how many people, and who’s been there. It’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
“The first time we went up there to test, I think there was 20,000 people that showed up in the stands,” Myers continued. “I don’t remember how many it was, but it was a lot. It was just amazing.
“I’m telling you, Dale was just as excited as we were. It was a cool place to be for Childress, for Dale, for all of us.”
NASCAR’s move to Indianapolis was a surprise for many. While the organization had grown exponentially in the two decades prior to the ’90s, open-wheel purists never believed they would encroach upon their beloved Brickyard. Not since the Harvest Classic – three 20-, 50-, and 100-mile races held at the circuit on Sept. 9, 1916 – had a race other than the Indianapolis 500 been run there.
Critics gaffed at the idea of stock cars passing over the famed yard of bricks, but somehow, NASCAR pulled it off. The series tested at the track in 1993, and one year later, the field was on track for the inaugural race.
From that moment on, the legendary place has offered a chance for drivers and teams to earn a career-defining win, something that Earnhardt wanted more than anybody.
While he was “One Tough Customer,” according to a series of Wrangler ads in the 1980s, Earnhardt was a student of racing. The veteran understood the legend of Indianapolis; he knew how honorable it was to go to Victory Lane at the circuit.
Because of that knowledge, Earnhardt desperately wanted to get his name in the record books as many times as possible when NASCAR began running at the track. Earnhardt raced Wallace to “lead” the first lap of testing, put down a blazing 171.726-mph lap to claim the first pole, and when he fell just shy of that, qualifying second behind a 172.414-mph run from Rick Mast, Earnhardt entered the inaugural Brickyard 400 still looking to grab some sort of “first.”
“I do remember that he and Rick Mast were joking about who was going to lead that first lap,” Childress said. “Dale was determined to, and we bounced off the wall coming out of turn 4 trying to do it.”
Earnhardt’s determination to lead was ultimately his undoing. The Intimidator dropped back in the early stages of the race after getting into the wall, and was never able to recover on the tight Indianapolis course. Earnhardt would ultimately come home in fifth, looking on with envy as Gordon celebrated one of the biggest wins of his career.
That loss would stick with Earnhardt throughout the next year. While he claimed his seventh championship, running away from the field, Dale couldn’t forget how close he came to winning the inaugural Brickyard 400. When he lost the Daytona 500 for the 17th time in Feb. of ’95, Earnhardt was left with only one more race on the year to make history.
Earnhardt pulled into IMS on Thursday, Aug. 3, 1995, determined to do so, trying to turn his season around in the process.
Looking for a record-breaking eighth championship, Earnhardt had led the points for 13 races from the second event of the season at Rockingham Speedway through the first of two races at Pocono Raceway. However, he had fallen victim to issues in the five races prior to Indianapolis, scoring three finishes of 20th or worse at Michigan, Loudon and Pocono.
The Intimidator had regained ground with third-place results at Daytona and Talladega, but entered Indianapolis sitting third in points. Gordon, by comparison appeared to be en route to his first championship. The youngster, who turned 23 during Brickyard 400 weekend, had rallied off four top-two finishes (including two wins) and an eighth-place run during the same five-race stint to take the points lead.
Blame it on the Rain
While Earnhardt was determined to run well in his return to Indianapolis, his weekend didn’t start off promising.
Back in the early days of the Brickyard 400, NASCAR used a qualifying format similar to Indianapolis 500 time trials at the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway, one close to the new format being tested this weekend at the track.
Time trials consisted of two rounds. The first, held on opening day for the weekend, was pole qualifying. The top 20 would be set based off of Thursday’s times, with the rest of the field returning on Friday to try to qualify themselves into Saturday’s race.
Gordon stole the early hype from the weekend, laying down a 172.536-mph lap to set a new track record and take the pole position. Bobby Hamilton added to the race’s early buzz, putting Richard Petty’s classic No. 43 STP Pontiac on the outside of the front row with a speed of 172.222 mph.
As for Earnhardt? He qualified 13th, well off of the runner-up pace he’d shown in qualifying the previous year.
Despite his poor performance, Earnhardt’s team knew he had a chance to win.
“We went up there and we put a lot of effort into it,” said Myers, who now works as a radio host for the show Tradin’ Paint, which airs on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I don’t remember building a new car or anything like that. Back in those days, you didn’t do a lot of that, or at least we didn’t. Dale didn’t tear his cars up.“
“We knew we had a good car,” added Childress. “But we knew Indy was all about getting good track position.”
Maintaining the positive attitude would be key. With Thursday’s events complete, drivers and teams returned to their motor coaches and set in for the night.
Then, the rains came.
Remnants of Hurricane Erin, a large tropical storm that had formed during the final days of July, rolled into the midwest as the sun rose on Friday morning, pounding the racetrack with consistent rain.
The rain would settle in for the next two days. NASCAR officials were forced to cancel a practice session slated for Friday morning, and when the rains continued into the afternoon, the second round of qualifying was also cancelled. As a result, teams were set by their day one time trial speeds.
Nine drivers, including AJ Foyt – the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, 24 Hours of Daytona, and 24 Hours of Le Mans – failed to make Saturday’s race. The result would be Foyt’s only failed attempt to qualify at Indianapolis, dating back to his first race at the circuit back in 1958. The field would manage one brief practice session Friday evening, but it, too would be cut short when rain began to fall once again.
As daylight broke on Saturday, the outlook to get the 400-mile race in was bleak. Steady rain fell throughout the morning, keeping the speedway damp and increasing expectation that the Brickyard 400 would be postponed. Worse yet, the weather forecast showed rain continuing through Sunday, threatening to wash out the entire weekend.
“On race day, it rained, and it rained, and it rained,” said Myers. “It didn’t look like we were going to have that race.”
A few fans left the saturated, muddy grounds of IMS as local media speculated (and in some cases falsely proclaimed) that the race would be postponed.
Expecting a rainout, teams in the garage area looked to come up with plans for Saturday evening.
“Dale and I had talked about, if it rained out, taking our wives over to St. Elmo’s (a famous local steakhouse) to have dinner that night,” said Childress of his plans.
Even NASCAR’s brass were left pessimistic about Saturday’s activities as rain washed over Indianapolis.
Burning time during the rain delay, Chocolate Myers was hanging out around the NASCAR hauler when he heard an interesting conversation. Bill France, Jr., then CEO of NASCAR, Leo Mehl, the head of the racing division of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Les Richter, a former Los Angeles Ram serving as head of operations for NASCAR, were all discussing the possibilities of racing on Saturday when one of them muttered something unexpected, a phrase that’s stuck with Myers to this day:
“If we run this race today, I’ll kiss your butt on the start-finish line when it’s over.”
Despite the bleak outlook, the unexpected happened around 3:30 p.m. ET when clouds disappeared and sunshine washed over the 2.5-mile Brickyard for the first time in nearly two days.
From the second the weather improved, the scramble to dry the track was on. NASCAR sent out every jet dryer on the property to dry the massive facility while teams scrambled to get their cars prepared and on the grid.
With the rain stopping so late, teams weren’t just fighting the weather, either. There were only roughly four hours of daylight remaining as track-drying procedures began.
Chocolate Myers was one of the many men hustling to prepare for the race. Myers, then 46, was enjoying a special weekend with his family.
“My wife (Caron) and I, and our daughter (Lexi) drove there,” said Myers. “We were kind of making a family vacation out of it, so we had driven all the way to Indianapolis.”
Myers, the fueler for Earnhardt’s team, was also responsible for making sure everything was loaded on the team’s truck during the pre-race, so that teams could leave quickly when the race was over.
“We were finishing up, getting everything loaded up to get out of there when the race was over, and the guys had already gone to pit road,” said Myers. “I go to make my last run to the truck to get everything I need, get my wife, get my helmet.
“I’m walking out to pit road, and you know, I’m pretty darn proud. I’m up there with Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt. I know maybe we’ve got a chance to win the race because of who we’re with.”
Preparing for one of the biggest races of his life, Myers took advantage of his wife’s presence at IMS.
“My wife and I are walking through the garage area, which is just about deserted by this time because the race is getting ready to start,” said Myers. “I’ve got my helmet bag in one hand, and I’m holding hands with my wife. I’m walking through the garage area, and back then, the way it used to be, you walked between the grandstands and out onto pit road.”
Suddenly, something unexpected occurred.
“All of the sudden, my wife let my hand go, and then got it again,” said Myers, his voice mimicking the surprise of that humid summer day.
Myers continued to pit road, thinking nothing of the exchange, but when he finally fostered a glance at the hand he was holding, the fueler was hit with a surprise.
“So, I’m walking on out, and I’m about out to pit road. I’m walking down pit road, and I turn around, and that damn Dick Trickle has got up there between me and my wife, and I’m holding hands with Trickle!” Myers laughed.
The Green Flag Falls
The race finally got underway when the green flag fell at 4:25 p.m. ET. Fans hoping to tune into the event on TV were left scrambling for their radios as ABC had already signed off the air. The race wouldn’t be aired until Sunday afternoon on ESPN.
When the race finally got underway, Gordon took off, leading the first 31 laps and fueling hopes of a repeat victory. Meanwhile, Earnhardt slowly worked his way through the field, rising inside of the top 10.
Gordon would lose the lead as the first round of pit stops cycled through, eventually surrendering it to Sterling Marlin. Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace would also establish themselves as contenders. Elliott would hold the top spot throughout the middle stages of the event, leading a race-high 47 laps from lap 32 to lap 100. Wallace, meanwhile, would work his way up from the 24th starting position, leading as pit stops cycled on laps 70 and 71. He worked his way into the top spot outright on lap 109.
Earnhardt, meanwhile, fought and clawed his way into the third position, following Wallace and Gordon around the 2.5-mile oval as the field came to the stripe to leave 40 laps remaining. Heading into the final round of pit stops in the 160-lap, 400-mile event it appeared either Wallace, Gordon, Earnhardt or Elliott would claim the second Brickyard 400.
Looking to gain ground with fresh tires, Gordon dropped to pit road with 34 laps remaining. However, two jammed lugnuts on his left-rear tire would lead to a slow stop. Earnhardt and Elliott would head to pit lane on the following lap, with Earnhardt’s “Flying Aces” crew getting him out ahead of the Dawsonville, Georgia driver.
The next time by, Wallace came down pit road from the lead. Wallace’s crew would get his No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft Ford out of the box with a quick stop, and it appeared Wallace would cycle through in the lead.
Then, suddenly, things started to fall apart.
After dodging a lost tire, Wallace was working his way down pit road when the lapped cars of Joe Nemechek and Rich Bickle made heavy contact in front of him. Bickle would slow, forcing Wallace to tap his brakes and dive under his No. 40 Kendall Pontiac. Incredibly, when Wallace dove, he was forced to dodge another tire as Hamilton’s No. 43 crew let one of his tires slip onto pit road.
The myriad of issues slowed Wallace’s exit, allowing Earnhardt to gain crucial time. Wallace would sail his car off of the warning track at the exit of turn 2, still ahead of Earnhardt but the black No. 3 car was approaching quickly.
The battle was on.
Wallace jumped to the top of the track. Earnhardt closed. Wallace snaked to break the draft, but it was to no avail. Earnhardt caught Wallace halfway down the backstretch, diving underneath him.
The two would drag-race down to turn 3, with Earnhardt ultimately winning the battle and taking the top spot for the first time when John Andretti pitted with 28 laps to go.
The Closing Laps
When Earnhardt needed it most, the “Flying Aces” had come through for him.
“Back in those days, we were just – and I guess they are today, too – but we were just dedicated,” said Myers. “We didn’t take no for an answer. We worked hard. Pit stop practices, back then, didn’t really happen that often. You practice more at the racetrack than you did at the shop, because you didn’t have time. You didn’t have that many people.”
Ironically, Earnhardt would also be involved in the day’s only caution during his first lap as the leader. Earnhardt, who was holding a half-second lead over Wallace, was diving under the lapped car of Jeff Burton coming off turn 2 when Burton got loose. Burton would slide up into the wall before spinning between Earnhardt and Wallace.
When the green flag fell for the race’s lone restart with 24 laps to go, Earnhardt had his hands full. The seven-time champion held the race lead, but Ricky Rudd and Ward Burton would lead the field to green from the tail end of the lead lap. Earnhardt would restart alongside the lapped car of Greg Sacks in row two, with Wallace directly behind him in second.
When asked if they believed Earnhardt would hold Wallace off, some nagging uncertainty filled both Myers and Childress.
“Oh man… Yes, but you don’t know,” said Myers.
“We knew if we could beat him out of the pits, we could win the race,” said Childress. “We felt we could hold him off. Dale was not going to make a mistake, because it came down to if you slipped at all, you were going to lose the race.”
Ultimately, Earnhardt lived up to his “Intimidator” persona. On the restart, Earnhardt worked his way alongside Ward Burton as the field came to the end of the frontstretch. Knowing how valuable clearing Burton would be, Earnhardt pushed his car deep into turn 1, causing the two drivers to make contact and forcing Burton to lift as Earnhardt slid sideways into the turn.
The move – bold, unexpected, right on the cusp of wrecking – was vintage Earnhardt. The RCR driver would clear Rudd a couple laps later to get his No. 3 into clean air, then proceed to hold off the hard-charging Wallace and Dale Jarrett – who had driven from 26th to third – over the race’s final 20 laps.
Myers, referred to as “Gasman Choc” from his peers, remembers the pride of watching Earnhardt drive to the victory.
“To go out there, and to be able to come out of pit road ahead of Rusty [Wallace], and to be able to hold him off, to sit there tense and count the laps down…,” Myers trailed off. “You know, you’re counting the laps down and you’re looking at the sky, because it was getting a little dark. I don’t remember exactly what time it was when we got that race over with, but it was getting kind of late… It was awesome.”
When the checkered flag finally fell after just over two and one-half hours, Earnhardt had claimed the second-annual Brickyard 400 at well after 7:00 p.m. ET. He bested runner-up Wallace by a mere .37 seconds with darkness descending on the speedway.
A year after being denied the glory of winning the inaugural race, Earnhardt had triumphed at the Brickyard.
The win was, at the time, the biggest of both his career and RCR’s history.
“To win that race… It was huge,” said Childress. “We knew, walking in that place, with all of that history, to be able to win at Indy was big.
“We wanted to win that very first race, and Jeff Gordon won it. He was very deserving because Jeff’s from Indy. What a way to kick off the Indianapolis Brickyard 400, to have a local boy win the race. And then for us to come and win it in the second year was huge, I think, for us.”
The “Flying Aces,” then one of the best pit crews in the Cup garage, were filled with pride after aiding Earnhardt to his triumph.
“Man, it was awesome,” Myers said. “Here’s the deal. You had Dale Earnhardt giving 100% all the time. You had Richard Childress giving 100% all the time, and everybody on the team doing the same thing. You never really worried about letting yourself down. You always worried about letting your friends down.
“The group of people that we had at that time, and I love to tell this story all the time, it was a group of people where we didn’t all like each other, but we all loved each other,” Myers continued. “We all had a special bond. We were all a bunch of guys that came together at the right place at the right time, and through hard word, desire and dedication – and a lot of fun, too – don’t get me wrong. It just worked for us.
“Being on that pit crew, and doing some of the things we were able to do for so many years… I’m awful proud of that.”
While the win was important for RCR, it meant the most to Earnhardt. A steely-eyed veteran, Earnhardt jokingly guessed that he “wasn’t too old to win at Indianapolis” as he rolled toward Victory Lane, accepting high fives from members of pit crews and acknowledging a congratulatory gesture from Gordon on pit road.
When Earnhardt finally climbed out of his car minutes after taking the checkered flag, he was showered in the cheers of nearly 300,000 fans. With a trademark grin washing over his mustached face, Earnhardt waved to the crowd before celebrating the win with his crew.
As part of the reward for winning the race, IMS Track President Tony George came to Victory Lane to give Earnhardt a commemorative silver brick. Earnhardt accepted the brick, sharing formalities with George before dropping a line that further cemented his on-track rivalry with Gordon.
“I’m glad I’m the second man to’ve won it, if not the first,” said Earnhardt to ESPN, referring to the many times he referred to the inaugural winner Gordon as a boy.
Earnhardt would also add a quote symbolic of NASCAR’s feelings toward the race at the time.
“I guarantee you NASCAR is happy to be here,” he exclaimed, as another smile appeared on his lightly-wrinkled face.
The win was everything Earnhardt needed. Already a legend, he finally had a career-defining win. In need of championship momentum, the Hall of Famer had earned the biggest win of his life at the time.
“We’ve never won the Daytona 500, but the Brickyard’s a special race,” said Earnhardt. “I think it’s the next to it, so we’ll take it.”
While Earnhardt’s team celebrated their win, an interesting announcement came over the track’s PA system.
“We win the race, and I remember standing in victory lane, and we’re all celebrating and just having a great time,” said Myers, recalling the memory. “Suddenly, I hear over the loud speaker, it says something like ‘Leo Mehl, will you please meet Les Richter and Bill France on the start-finish line?'”
The joking bet from earlier in the day had come full circle.
“I don’t remember which one of them made the bet, but they were having a good time with it as well,” joked Myers.
Unfortunately for Earnhardt, any championship momentum gained at Indianapolis quickly stalled out. A subpar 23rd-place run at Watkins Glen the next week and a 35th-place result from a broken timing belt at Michigan would trap Earnhardt in the runner-up position in points while Gordon claimed his first title.
Earnhardt would go on to win the 1998 Daytona 500, finally claiming Daytona glory after 20 long years of frustration. The same race would take his life three years later, when he crashed while running third on the last lap.
14 years after his tragic death, and 20 years after one of his biggest wins, both Childress and Myers tried to put into perspective how big Earnhardt’s Brickyard triumph was.
“You know, I think besides winning the Daytona 500 in ’98, I think it would be our second biggest win, our very best win, just because of the history,” said Childress. “The place was packed, and the fans were so excited. I never will forget riding around with Dale in the open convertible after the race and seeing the fans. I don’t think any of the fans left the grandstands! They were all standing, cheering, and holding up the three. It was just an experience of a lifetime to win.”
“At that time – we hadn’t won Daytona – it was probably the biggest win we’d ever had as a team,” said Myers. “We were just so fortunate, you know? We’d won Talladega, and we’d won so many races at Daytona, not the Daytona 500, and we’d won at Charlotte and Darlington.
“We’d won at all the great places, but to win there, for us…,” Myers trailed off. “I’ll be honest with you, the first time we went up there, I have to remember, I think we went up there when nobody was there the first time. They had us come up to see if we could run a stock car up there, I think before they even did the first test.
“To go win at that place, and to see Earnhardt excited… It was huge.”
The 1995 Brickyard 400 would be Myers’ only win at the 2.5-mile oval, but Childress has added three more wins at the famed yard of bricks in the two decades following the victory – twice in Cup with Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, and once in NXS with grandson Ty Dillon.
According to Childress, some of his recent triumphs at the track rank right up with Earnhardt’s win.
“Of all the racetracks you want to win, it’s there at the top,” said Childress. “My grandson (Ty Dillon) won the Xfinity race there this past year, and it was a huge deal. It was right there at the top, you know.
“Anytime you win in Indy, in either series, it’s a huge, huge win. It’s such a historical place. To be able to sit and kiss the bricks with my grandson was very special, just like with me being involved with John Menard, all of the years that he raced there.
“The win with his son Paul, that was probably… I’d almost put that in front of the…,” Childress backtracked. “I wouldn’t put it in front of the Earnhardt win. I’d put them all up there, but that was really special because I knew how special it was to John to be there and see his son win the Brickyard after many, many years of him being there racing. I was upstairs with his sister watching the race, and it was unbelievable to see the family reaction when Paul won that race. That made it so special to me to be a part of that win.”
Childress summarized his experiences with the Brickyard with one final quote.
“All of those wins are special, I think back to winning with Dale, and it’s just unbelievable to remember how good it felt to win that race, and how good it felt to win with Paul, Kevin and Ty last year,” said Childress. “It was so special, unbelievable. That was one of the best winner’s circles other than Daytona. I put it right up there. Daytona has my favorite wins, but I put the Brickyard wins right there with them.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway has lost some of its luster in the years since Earnhardt’s triumph. The once-packed grandstands now sit half-full on race day. Sponsors such as Crown Royal and Lilly Diabetes have come in and sponsored the track’s races, placing large banners over empty sections of grandstands.
Many fans call for Indianapolis to be removed from the Cup Series schedule, while NASCAR themselves have resorted to testing a new, high-drag rules package to attempt to improve the on-track product.
Indianapolis isn’t what it once was, but to those that have conquered it along the way, the track’s legend will live on.
Chocolate Myers summed it up best:
“To go to that place, the place you thought you would never go, and to be able to go up there and win has been, and will always be one of the highlights of my racing career.”