David Taylor/Getty Images
1997 marked the fourth year that Ricky Rudd drove for his own team, Rudd Performance Motorsports.
His foray into the world of a driver/owner had produced mixed results in its first three seasons. He had earned one win apiece in 1994, 1995, and 1996, but entered the month of August 1997 still winless.
Late in the running, leaders Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon were all forced to pit for fuel. Rudd took over the lead, gambling that he would have enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag.
After a late caution bought Rudd some time to save fuel, he held off a determined challenge from Bobby Labonte to earn a heartwarming victory for his scrappy, underfunded race team.
Rudd's team would only last two more seasons, and he would win four more races (one more with RPM, three with Robert Yates racing) before retiring in 2007.
But, even 14 years later, Rudd, who had a much-respected but fairly-ordinary career, looks back and knows that his Brickyard victory is the one that made his career.
“When you look at the measuring stick, there is no doubt about it that was the biggest of my career,” Rudd said in a 2011 interview with Indianapolis Motor Speedway's website. “As a driver, winning my first race at Riverside, Calif., was a huge event. Winning at Richmond after getting tore all to pieces the week before at Daytona in 1984, that was a big race for me. But when you list the races, that was my big race.
“I won 23 races in my career, but it’s what comes with that race. It’s like you are welcome into a club."