There are things that are neat and cool and awesome, but Talladega Superspeedway and the state of Alabama went way beyond those superlatives Friday when they thanked Dale Earnhardt Jr. for all the memories he’s given fans there.
The track and state honored Earnhardt Jr. — who will race at ‘Dega for the last time Sunday — by presenting him with one of his father’s former race cars as both a going away and belated birthday (he turned 43 on Oct. 10) gift.
That’s right, not a replica, but the actual car., a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Junior’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove to his first career Cup win at Bristol in 1979.
David Pearson also won in the same car that season in the Southern 500 at Darlington when he filled in for the injured Earnhardt.
When the senior Earnhardt returned, he also drove the same car for several races en route to his first Cup championship in 1980.
While this particular car – emblazoned in gold and blue and wearing the No. 2 on the doors – never raced at Talladega, it still was a treat for Junior to receive.
To say he was surprised is an understatement.
“That was great,” Dale Jr. told NBCSN’s Marty Snider (see full video above). “I’m pretty surprised. I didn’t think I was going to take home a race car this weekend.
“The state of Alabama owns this car but they’re going to let us take it to Mooresville, N.C., and show it around in our shop, so it’s going to be fun for the guys. I got to take it for a couple laps, that was fun, drove it through the garage so all the guys could see it.
“It was pretty neat just trying to imagine what it’d be like running one around here at 180, 190 mph.
“They ran a Monte Carlo here in 1979, but in 1980 they ran an Oldsmobile 442 (at Talladega). This was the car he ran at Bristol and all the short tracks and mile-and-a-half’s.”
It was one of the few times in Junior’s life that he actually drove a car that his father had previously competed in, he told Snider.
“I drove his No. 3 Goodwrench car a couple times in tests that first year we were together, but never anything old like this, with some real history,” he said. “I love to be able to sit in the car and just see the perspective of how much the view was like. It’s so different than our cars today, no head rest or nothing like that. You see everything, you feel the wind blowing around, it’s pretty crazy.”
Earnhardt then added, “I just want to thank Talladega Superspeedway, the state of Alabama. They’ve been really good to me and hopefully we can get ‘em a win this weekend.”
Off-camera and before he climbed into the car, Junior joked about the 38-year-old car: “Are we sure the brakes are working before we take it for a ride?”