CONCORD, N.C. – The Nov. 15, 1992 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is regarded as a changing of the guard moment in NASCAR. It brought that season to a close, but it was also Richard Petty’s last race in the NASCAR Cup Series, while also marking Jeff Gordon’s first start in the sport’s top series.
While Petty was bringing his legendary, seven-time champion and 200-win career to a close, Gordon was just beginning his journey to NASCAR stardom. The driver that would make the No. 24 famous around the world would win 93 Cup races (third-most all time) and four championships during a 25-year career driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon now works as the vice chairman for the organization. Gordon and Richard Petty sat down with Richard’s son Kyle Petty for their first interview together to look back at that race nearly 30 years later. The sit-down interview aired on USA Network prior to Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"I was young and trying to make my own name and come into a sport that I had a lot of respect for the competitors," Gordon said of his mindset ahead of his first start. "And then it was OK, when is this going to happen? And we started planning. We are going to do one race at the end of the year and that race is going to be the final race.
"I wasn’t thinking at the time what a big deal that was going to be. I knew it was Richard’s final year. I knew every weekend they were celebrating you and it was a big deal, but I had no idea what that one day, that one race was going to be like in Atlanta. I was just more of I’m scared to death of making my first start and how is that going to perform. I felt like I was under a microscope."
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Gordon’s first start in his words "wasn’t long." The then 21-year-old was involved in an early crash, completed 164 of the 328 laps and finished 31st.
"It kind of went a lot like the rest of the weekend," Gordon said. "We were super fast. I remember how free you had to start the cars on a full load of fuel and just hang onto it and then you go. Well, I didn’t make it that far."
Petty was also involved in a multi-car incident early in the race and would finish 35th in his final start.
Despite the tough debut, Gordon shared one moment from the weekend that has stuck with him all of these years.
"I feel like I finally made it, and here I am in this driver’s meeting with all these great drivers," Gordon said. "Because of Richard’s final race, it was a pageantry within itself.
"And of course the thing I cherish, which is Richard did something neat for everybody that was a part of that event. He gave out these money clips, if you remember and they had your starting position on it."
"Wasn’t no money in them," the seven-time champion quipped back as Gordon pulled out the money clip.
"No money, but you were giving me hope," Gordon explained. "To me, that day and being apart of it and holding on to this. I’ve always had it in a safe place. I’ve moved houses and different things and I’ve always held onto this because that day meant a lot to me. It says on the back here, 'Thanks for the memories, Richard Petty. Jeff Gordon. 21st.' "
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Petty was there for Gordon’s final full-time start in the No. 24 Chevrolet at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22, 2015. “The King” gave Gordon $93 – one dollar to represent every Cup race he had won.
"I told him, 'If you win the race, I’ll give you another dollar,' " Richard Petty said.
"Do you know how bad I wanted that dollar? I wanted that dollar so bad," Gordon said.
"I kept my dollar," Richard Petty said about Gordon finishing sixth in his final race in the No. 24.
"When he pulled out 94 one-dollar bills, he’s like this is one for every one of your wins. I was like that is the coolest thing ever."
You can watch the full interview with the two NASCAR Hall of Famers below as well as on the Motorsports on NBC YouTube Channel.