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Volume 22 No. 2
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Rainbow Warrior

Twenty years ago, Jeff Gordon drove to a record 13 wins in NASCAR’s premier series, fueling the sport to its largest period of growth. Along the way, he left a few suggestion notes in Victory Lane.
Driver Jeff Gordon scored a $1 million bonus for winning the Southern 500 in 1998, just one highlight from a record-setting season.
Photo: Newscom

It was a good problem to have, but Jeff Gordon jokes that he won so many races in 1998 that he started making suggestions to NASCAR about how the sport could speed up Victory Lane procedures.

 

Gordon’s NASCAR Hall of Fame career in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet spanned parts of three decades and ended with him as the third-most-winning driver of all time, but it was 1998 that likely stands out as the most remarkable.

 

Gordon won a NASCAR modern-era record 13 premier series races that season, including the Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, where he received a $1 million bonus from then-title sponsor Winston. After winning three races over the first 15 races of the season, Gordon reeled off an astonishing 10 wins in the final 18 races en route to his third premier series championship in four years.

 

You go through a season like 1998, where you’re winning that many races, and it’s hard not to get to win No. 5, 6 or 7 and and go, ‘Damn, not all this again! All these hats and pictures! Is it over yet?’
Jeff Gordon
93-time winner in NASCAR's premier series

At a certain point, the winning became so routine that the “Rainbow Warriors” team started wanting to spend more time celebrating with each other and less completing the minutiae of Victory Lane duties, which included endless pictures as the team swapped hats for different sponsors of the race team and NASCAR.

 

“You go through a season like 1998, where you’re winning that many races, and it’s hard not to get to win No. 5, 6 or 7 and go, ‘Damn, not this again! All these hats and pictures! Is it over yet?’” Gordon said. “That year we made a lot of suggestions to NASCAR, like, ‘Isn’t there a way where you don’t have to do all these contingency hats every single time; we just did this last week and the week before.’”

 

Gordon added that NASCAR made some changes as a result and has “done a great job” speeding up the process over the years.

 

Leading up to that race at Darlington, Gordon recounted that he did something unusual in that he hosted a TV show previewing the race and his shot at a $1 million bonus. It would prove to be early training for Gordon, who today is an analyst for Fox Sports.

 

“Looking back, it’s pretty cool we did that because we ended up winning, but we definitely took some risks by being in front of the camera and talking about it. That was something unusual. I had never done that before.”