The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, and the first Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911. It became a tradition that the Indy 500 was the only race held at the track annually. With the exception of a Labor Day race meet in 1916, no other races were held at the track through 1993. As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series began to grow in stature and popularity, speculation began to grow in the 1980s and early 1990s about the possibility of holding a race at Indy. From 1971-1980, NASCAR held races at Ontario Motor Speedway, which was built as a replica of Indianapolis. With their experiences at Ontario, it was generally presumed that the stock cars would find Indy's nearly identical layout equally competitive.
During the reigns of Speedway presidents Tony Hulman (1946–1977), John Cooper (1980–1981) and Joe Cloutier (1978–1979, 1983–1989), the idea of hosting a second race at the Speedway was considered from time to time, but never actively pursued by the board of directors. Around 1968, USAC proposed a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the USAC Stock Car division. It was to be called the "Tony Hulman Classic," but Hulman and the Speedway management politely declined the offer. In 1980, due to a tax dispute with the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County, Bill France openly threatened to move the Firecracker 400 to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A few weeks later, however, the parties reconciled, and the plan to move the race was withdrawn.
When Cloutier died in December 1989, Tony George was named the president of the Speedway. Upon his appointment, George immediately began taking the Speedway in new business directions.
On September 24, 1991, A. J. Foyt filmed a commercial for Craftsman tools at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While filming in the garage area, Foyt, and Speedway president Tony George decided to take Foyt's NASCAR Winston Cup Series stock car for a few laps around the track. Foyt was the first driver to do so, and later on, George himself took a few laps. The event was not planned, and had no implications, but was an unusual sight, and stirred up some mild interest and speculation for the future. It was apparently not the first time Foyt had driven a stock car at the track. Foyt was known to have used his garage at Indy to store race cars during the summer months, and in 1979 was said to have taken his NASCAR stock car for test laps.
In December 1991, Tony George proposed to the board of directors a plan to hold a second major event at the Speedway. The board approved the measure, and the Speedway started taking steps towards hosting a second race, preferably a NASCAR Winston Cup event, but also considering IROC.
In March 1992, NASCAR drivers Dave Marcis and Dick Trickle (both of whom were IROC test drivers) were invited to test IROC cars at the Speedway. Trickle reportedly ran a lap that was hand–timed at 162.799 mph (262.000 km/h). At the time, the Speedway was considering hosting an IROC event during May as part of the on-track activities leading up the Indianapolis 500. The second weekend of Indy 500 qualifying was becoming less-popular with fans, and an additional event was an idea to boost attendance. The test was considered successful, but several improvements would have to be made to the track before it was safe for the IROC cars to race there. After much consideration, it was determined that it would not be economically feasible to hold the IROC race. Plans for that event were put on hold. Instead, nine top NASCAR teams were invited to test (see below).
Following the NASCAR test, Indianapolis Motor Speedway started an extensive improvement project. The outside retaining wall and catch fence were replaced. The new wall and fence were decidedly stronger, and could support the 3,500 pound NASCAR stock cars. The pit area was widened, and the individual pit stalls were replaced in concrete. This was done to better support the pneumatic jacks used by the Indy cars, and to handle the refuel spillage of gasoline from the NASCAR machines. The largest project, however, involved the removal of the track apron, and the construction of the new warm-up lane, similar to that built at Nazareth Speedway in 1987.
On April 14, 1993, Speedway President Tony George and president of NASCAR Bill France, Jr. jointly announced the Inaugural Brickyard 400 would be held Saturday, August 6, 1994. A new race logo was also unveiled. Immediately, anticipation for the event grew, as many drivers contemplated one-off entries, and comparisons were already being made to NASCAR's biggest event, the Daytona 500. ABC signed on to broadcast the race live, and ESPN would cover practice and qualifying.
Jimmy Spencer won the DieHard 500 at Talladega, immediately proceeding the 1994 Brickyard 400. Going into the race, the top five in championship points were as follows:
Championship standings following the 1994 DieHard 500
- Ernie Irvan, 2,739 points
- Dale Earnhardt, −16
- Mark Martin, −258
- Rusty Wallace, −289
- Ken Schrader, −357
NASCAR's "tire war" was notable during the 1994 season. Both Goodyear and Hoosier tires were used by entrants. Many of the front-runners utilized Goodyear. Among the top teams using Hoosier tires was Geoff Bodine.
In order to attract more entries, the initial Brickyard 400 was concurrently included in the NASCAR Winston West schedule. One provisional starting position would be available to the top driver in Winston West points that did not qualify on speed. The points leader in Winston West standings entering the race was Mike Chase.
Going into the race, conjecture amongst fans and media contemplated the possibility of an expanded field, a special qualifying format, a three-abreast starting grid, a celebrity pace car driver, or other changes for the race. However, NASCAR officials planned on treating the Brickyard 400 as any other points-paying race, with standard rules and regulations.
On June 22–23, 1992, nine top NASCAR Winston Cup series teams were invited to Indy to participate in a Goodyear tire test. Over the weekend, the teams had raced in the Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Although no official announcements were made, it was in fact an unofficial feasibility test to see if stock cars would be competitive at the circuit. An estimated 10,000 spectators watched a rather exciting two days of history in the making. A. J. Foyt took a few laps around the track in Dale Earnhardt's car on the second day. ESPN covered the test.
On August 16–17, 1993, thirty-five NASCAR teams took part in an official open test at Indy. It was held as the teams returned from the second race at Michigan, the Champion Spark Plug 400. The top 35 teams in NASCAR points received invitations. Hosting the test in August mimicked the weather conditions expected for the race in 1994. Several thousand spectators attended, and many announcements were made.
Bobby Labonte (165.624 mph) set the fastest lap on Monday, while Bill Elliott (167.467 mph) turned the fastest lap overall on Tuesday morning. On Monday, Kenny Wallace spun out and hit the inside wall. He was taken to Methodist Hospital for minor injuries. At noon on Tuesday, recently retired NASCAR legend Richard Petty took a few fast laps by himself, and then donated his car to the Speedway museum. Later on Tuesday, during a session of "drafting practice" a full complement of over 30 cars took to the track, to simulate race condition. John Andretti spun in turn 1, and several cars crashed. No injuries were reported, but the incident drew the ire of some of the veterans who thought some drivers were pushing too hard. ESPN covered the test, airing highlights of both days on SpeedWeek.
Some of the participants compared the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Ontario Motor Speedway, which was built to closely mimic Indy's layout. Only a handful of drivers in the field had actually driven at Ontario before it closed (1980), and none of them felt they held any sort of measurable experience advantage.
During the summer of 1994, leading up to the race, private testing sessions conducted by the manufacturers (Ford and GM) were held.
Pole qualifying for the Inaugural Brickyard 400 was held on Thursday, August 4, 1994. A NASCAR record 85 cars entered, for 43 starting positions. H. B. Bailey drew the #1 qualifying attempt. Per the NASCAR rules in 1994, a one-lap qualifying attempt was utilized. The top 20 cars in pole qualifying were locked into the starting field. The remainder of the cars could stand on their time, or make a new attempt in second-round qualifying.
The entire qualifying line of 70 attempts was completed without a single incident. The only driver who experienced trouble was Ken Schrader, who blew an engine during his attempt. Dale Earnhardt took the provisional pole with a lap of 171.726 mph, but his tenure was short-lived. The very next car out to qualify was Rick Mast. Mast set a new stock car lap record of 172.414 mph to secure the pole position. Jeff Gordon was one of the last cars to make an attempt, and qualified third.
Indycar and IMSA regular Geoff Brabham, attempting his first NASCAR race, surprised many by qualifying 18th. Indy 500 winners A. J. Foyt and Danny Sullivan, however, did not make the top 20.
Second-round qualifying was held Friday, August 5, 1994. The drivers outside the top 20 from the previous round were allowed to stand on their time from Thursday, or erase it and make a new attempt. Due to the expected length of the session, and the sensitive nature of how the track is known to react to changing weather conditions, for fairness, the qualifying draw order from the previous round was inverted for round two. NASCAR adopted this policy for all races from that point on.
Five drivers stood on their times from Thursday, and all five hung on to qualify for the race. Terry Labonte was the fastest qualifier of the day. A. J. Foyt managed to qualify in 40th, the last car to make the field on speed. Lake Speed and Harry Gant made the field on provisionals. No Winston West competitors made the field on speed, but Winston West points leader Mike Chase was given a provisional.
Very few of the one-off entries by Indycar regulars made the field. Popular Indycar owner Dick Simon, who was noted for never failing to qualify one of his rookie drivers at the Indy 500, fell short, as driver Jim Sauter ranked only 47th.
Popular Indy 500 fixture Jim Nabors was invited to sing the national anthem, accompanied by the Indiana State University Marching Sycamores. Mary F. Hulman gave the traditional starting command. Elmo Langley drove the Chevrolet Monte Carlo pace car, and Doyle Ford served as flagman.
The flyover was performed by the 181st Fighter Group, featuring four F-16 fighter jets.
At the start, polesitter Rick Mast led Dale Earnhardt into turn one. In turn four, Earnhardt brushed the wall, which allowed Mast to lead the first lap. Earnhardt quickly began to slip in the standings. Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon passed Mast to take over the lead. On lap 3, Danny Sullivan lost a side window, bringing out the caution for debris. Earnhardt pitted to check the damage, and fell to the rear of the field.
The green came back out on lap 6. On lap 10, Jimmy Spencer lost control and crashed hard in turn 3. He would become the first driver to drop out.
The first half settled into a comfortable pace, with Jeff Gordon leading for several segments. The top five was battled among drivers including Gordon, Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and Brett Bodine. Dale Earnhardt attempted to charge through the field, and managed to lead laps during a sequence of green flag pit stops.
A. J. Foyt ran out of fuel around lap 40. He attempted to stay out and lead a lap during green flag pit stops, but had to coast around a full lap, and lost several laps in the process. He made it back to the pits, and re-joined the race.
On lap 95, Mike Chase and Dave Marcis crashed in turn 2, bringing out the caution. Under the yellow, Brett Bodine took on only two tires, which allowed him to re-enter the track with the lead. The field lined up for the restart with brothers Brett and Geoff Bodine first and second, respectively. Brett got the jump and led down the backstretch on lap 100. In turn three, Geoff nudged Brett's rear bumper, which caused Brett to become loose, and Geoff took the lead. In turn 4, however, Brett bumped Geoff in the rear bumper, and spun him out in front of the entire field. Geoff hit the outside wall, and collected Dale Jarrett. After the crash, Geoff suggested Brett spun him out on purpose, attributing the move to "family problems" between the brothers. Brett later admitted he spun Geoff out on purpose, and the brothers feuded for nearly two years afterward.
With Geoff Bodine out, the race came down to a battle between Jeff Gordon and Ernie Irvan, with Brett Bodine holding on to a strong top five position.
On lap 130, Geoff Brabham got high in turn 1 and hit the outside wall. Jimmy Hensley swerved to avoid him, but Brabham spun and smacked into the side of Hensley's car. Brabham was out of the race, but Hensley limped back to the pits with damaged fenders and flat tires. During the caution the leaders made their final scheduled pit stops. Rusty Wallace's pit crew led by Buddy Parrott, executed a 15.9 second pit stop, and he came out of the pits with the lead. Jeff Gordon and Ernie Irvan came out second and third. The top five was rounded out by Brett Bodine and Bill Elliott. By that point in the race, Dale Earnhardt had worked all the way up to seventh.
The green flag came back out on with 26 laps to. Rusty Wallace held the lead into turn 1, but Jeff Gordon passed him going down the backstretch. The two ran side-by-side in turn four, down the mainstretch, and into turn 1. Gordon finally got by, Irvan now in second, and Wallace slipped all the way back to 7th.
With 20 laps to go, Ernie Irvan led Jeff Gordon and Brett Bodine. Gordon was battling a loose condition, and decided to tuck in behind Irvan to improve his handling. As the laps dwindled down, Irvan and Gordon raced nose-to-tail, and began to pull away from the rest of the field. Gordon slipped by to re-take the lead on lap 145. Irvan stayed within reach, and on lap 149, attempted to pass Gordon for the lead on the backstretch. Gordon stayed high in turn three, and the two went side-by-side into the turn. Exiting turn 4, Gordon held off the challenge. On lap 150, exiting turn two, Irvan tried the same move, and this time took the lead.
With ten laps to go, Gordon tucked into second, and allowed Irvan to lead. Gordon's crew was instructing him to wait until the final 2–3 laps to make a pass attempt for the lead.
With five laps to go, Irvan apparently ran over a piece of debris down the mainstretch. He slid high going into turn one, and Jeff Gordon immediately dove underneath to take the lead. Down the backstretch, Irvan's right front tire blew, and he was forced to the pits. Gordon pulled away with Brett Bodine now in second. In the final four laps, Bodine began to close the gap, but Gordon held off the challenge and won the Inaugural Brickyard 400, his second career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. ABC Sports announcers Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons described the finish thus:
Jenkins: Years from today when 79 (the number of Indianapolis 500s run prior to this event) stock car races have been run here, we'll remember the name: Jeff Gordon, winner of the inaugural Brickyard 400!
Parsons: Man, oh man, oh MAN!
Jenkins: Jeff is screaming on his radio back to the pit crew, "Oh my God, I did it! I did it!"
After dropping to last place early on, Dale Earnhardt charged all the way to a fifth-place finish. A dejected Ernie Irvan wound up a lap down in 17th place. Two weeks later, Irvan was involved in a serious crash at Michigan International Speedway where he suffered a near-fatal head injury. Brett Bodine's second place would be the final top five finish of his career.(R) - denotes 1994 NASCAR Winston Cup Series rookie contender
(WW) - denotes NASCAR Winston West competitor
Time of race – 3:01:51
Average speed – 131.977 mph
Margin of victory – 0.53 seconds
Lead changes – 21 amongst 13 drivers
Total purse: $3,213,849 (winner's share $613,000)
Busch Pole Award: Rick Mast
Busch Beer Fastest Second Round Qualifier: Terry Labonte
Goody's Headache Award: Geoff Bodine
AP Parts Meet the Challenge Award: Lake Speed (+26 positions)
True Value Hard Charger Award: Jeff Gordon
Plasti-kote Winning Finish Award: Ray Evernham
Western Auto Mechanic of the Race: Ray Evernham
Unocal 76 Challenge: $15,200 available to polesitter Rick Mast – not won (rollover)
Sources:  
Championship standings following the 1994 Brickyard 400
- Dale Earnhardt, 2,883
- Ernie Irvan, −27
- Rusty Wallace, −268
- Mark Martin, −344
- Ken Schrader, −355
The 1994 Brickyard 400 was carried live on television by ABC Sports. Paul Page, who was the announcer on ABC's Indianapolis 500 broadcasts, served as host, with ABC's regular NASCAR announcer Bob Jenkins handling the play-by-play duties. His fellow commentator on ESPN NASCAR broadcasts, Benny Parsons, served as color commentator. The pit reporters included Gary Gerould, Jerry Punch (who had worked with Jenkins and Parsons on ESPN) and Jack Arute. ESPN carried practice and qualifying with the same crew.
The race was carried live on the radio by the IMS Radio Network. The broadcast was carried by over 450 affiliates in the United States. Mike Joy served as the play-by-play, with Ned Jarrett as analyst. The turn reporters were Jerry Baker, Gary Lee, Larry Henry, and Bob Lamey. The pit reporters were Glenn Jarrett, Dave Despain, John Kernan and Chris McClure. Howdy Bell served as statistician. Chris Economaki sat in as a booth analyst during the pre-race, then covered the garage area and hospital during the race itself. USAC historian Donald Davidson and author Greg Fielden were guests in the pre-race coverage, offering historical commentary. During the race itself, Davidson worked as a spotter for Bob Lamey on the radio. Davidson reprised his popular program The Talk of Gasoline Alley on WIBC for the week leading up to the event.
The Speedway public address announcing team from the Indy 500 was retained for the Brickyard 400. The chief announcer Tom Carnegie was joined by Jim Philiippe and David Calabro, but John Totten did not participate.