Time has not lessened the significance of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Ricky Rudd.
Rudd was not fortunate enough to win a Sprint Cup championship or a Daytona 500 in his driving career. But his 1997 Brickyard 400 triumph is something he takes deep pride in.
“It was just such a big day,” Rudd recalled today in an NASCAR teleconference. “I still have visions of that. I was fortunate enough to win a few more races along the way, but none of them seem to stand out in the detail that Indy has.
“It’s almost like it was a dream but yet it came true. I just have very vivid recollections of how that thing unwound.”
The same goes for fellow Brickyard champions Dale Jarrett (1996, 1999) and Bobby Labonte (2000), who joined Rudd today to recall their own Indy memories.
As part of his 1996 Indy win, Jarrett and his crew chief at the time, Todd Parrott, also started what’s become a tradition in both the Brickyard and the Indianapolis 500: The post-race kiss of the Yard of Bricks for the winning team.
Jarrett said the two talked beforehand about doing that if they won, but Parrott wound up having to remind his driver in Victory Lane.
“Todd grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, remember what we talked about,'” said Jarrett. “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.”
“..Of course it’s a lot more orchestrated now than what it was at that time, because we took everybody by surprise,” he continued. “But 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.”
As for Labonte, who will look to make this weekend’s show at Indy in a third car for Tommy Baldwin Racing, he remembers his Brickyard win as a pivotal moment in his successful run to the 2000 Cup title.
“It seemed like that was kind of the trend for a lot of guys for a few years,” he said. “It seemed like if you won the Brickyard, you ended up winning the championship. Some of it was for sure, some of it didn’t happen.
“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.”