One Man Shows
Still tired from a night of partying in anticipation of the season's final race, thousands of Formula One racing fans in Finland mobbed around televisions at 6 a.m. to catch a glimpse of their country's first champion in more than 15 years.
It was on the Formula One circuit that the excitement of the 1998 auto racing season was best captured. Finland's Mika Hakkinen held off two-time champion Michael Shumacher in the series' final race to capture his first Formula One Drivers' Championship.
Hakkinen's road to Team McLaren's first title since 1991 came tougher than one would have thought, considering he won four of the first six events on the schedule. Schumacher kept Team Ferrari close, winning six events in 1998 to Hakkinen's eight.
Hakkinen's dominance on the Formula One circuit in 1998 was similar to that of Jeff Gordon's in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Gordon, who turned 27 in August, continued to scratch his way into the record books, winning his third series championship in four years and tying Richard Petty's modern record of 13 victories in a season.
He was the driver everyone loved to hate in 1998. He finished out of the top 10 just five times in 33 races and won four straight from July 26 to Aug. 16. But along with the praise came accusations of dishonest tactics aimed at Gordon's crew (the Rainbow Warriors) and their chief Ray Evernham.
After Gordon and Mark Martin finished one-two at the CMT 300 NASCAR officials impounded tires from their cars to investigate allegations that their crews "soaked" tires to keep them strong.
Martin had arguably the best seat for Gordon's record-tying season. He finished second to Gordon in five races. It was an emotional year for Martin who lost his father and two other relatives in a plane crash, but recorded seven victories and finished in the top five 22 times. It was his most successful Winston Cup season ever and the third time he's finished second in the series championship. He lost to 1998 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt in 1990 and 1994.
That's right. You read correctly. The 1998 NASCAR season kicked off in memorable fashion on Feb. 15. With a penny given to him by Make-A-Wish recipient Wessa Miller fastened to his dashboard, Earnhardt erased 19 years of bad luck and failure, winning his first Daytona title in 20 career starts.
The CART season was dominated by Alex Zanardi who won seven of the season's 19 races and captured his third series championship. Immediately after taking home his title, Zanardi announced that he will return to Formula One racing in 1999.
The season's low point came in July at the U.S. 500 when four spectators were killed by a tire from the car of Adrian Fernandez after it shot over a retaining fence and into the bleachers.
Kenny Brack's three straight mid-season victories helped him capture the IRL championship. Eddie Cheever Jr. won his first Indianapolis 500 in May from a field that featured more first-time starters than ever before. At the end of the season there was talk of CART working out an agreement which would return their drivers to the Indianapolis 500. The IRL also had a big name bolt after 1998. Tony Stewart left to join the NASCAR circuit, leaving Brack as the leagues' new young star.