Earnhardt to honor dad with replica car


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The one thing a NASCAR driver never wanted to see was the black No. 3 Chevrolet closing on his rear bumper. One glance of the car in the rearview mirror was enough to send tremors through any competitor.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to achieve that same effect this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, where he’ll mark his late father’s birthday by driving a replica of the famed car.

Junior’s trademark red Chevy will be painted predominantly black, with white lettering and silver and red stripes. The car mimics the design the late Dale Earnhardt made famous. Junior will still use his No. 8 – his father’s No. 3 has not been on the track since his 2001 death.

“The car looks good, it’s a cool way to honor my dad,” Earnhardt said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to be behind the wheel of that car, and see the reaction it gets from other drivers on the track.”

The tribute is part of a larger salute at Dale Earnhardt Inc., which is celebrating Earnhardt’s Thursday night induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame, his overall accomplishments at Talladega and his 55th birthday, which would have been Saturday.

All three DEI cars will have the same paint scheme, which Junior views as an appropriate celebration of the seven-time champion. He seemed uncomfortable in February marking the five-year anniversary of his father’s death, but birthdays bring happier memories.

“His birthday is something I do enjoy pointing out or celebrating or recognizing because that was always a lot of fun with him,” Junior said. “When he was getting a little older we was always thinking about what his real age was. There’s some things that come and go without a blink of an eye. But there are other things that come and go that you want to point out and you want to recognize and you do appreciate.”

Junior’s car will be the most dramatic of the three DEI entries. After all, it’s at Talladega and Daytona – the two biggest and fastest tracks in NASCAR – where Junior bears the closest resemblance to his father.

Dale Earnhardt was the greatest at restrictor-plate racing, especially at Talladega, where he scored 10 wins and notched the 76th and final victory of his career in October 2000.

Junior inherited the skill required to work the draft. He has five victories at Talladega and two at Daytona.

But none compare to his father’s last victory, when he charged from 18th place with five laps to go to cross the finish line first.

“I was running second thinking I was in a position to try to get me a win, and I can see him and his line formed on the outside coming up, getting closer and closer,” Junior said. “Every time I look in the mirror, he’d moved up a few more feet toward us and was coming on. So everybody was sort of in a panic mode as if, “Wait a minute now, this thing ain’t playing out like we had in mind.”‘

Junior said drives like that Talladega victory were the ones his father cherished.

“He would do all kinds of stuff like that, make big comebacks or big, great saves or just crazy passes,” Junior remembered. “Everybody always said he could do a lot of things with a race car a lot of other people couldn’t. He’d take pride in those things personally.”

“Never would get out and jump up and down and brag about it. But when it was all said and done and over with, and everybody went home, he would take pride in doing those things. I think that comeback was one he really, really enjoyed.”