At a race track synonymous with the Earnhardt name, Dale Earnhardt’s son and grandson will carry on his legacy at Talladega Superspeedway this Halloween weekend.
Son Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be racing in the Cup Series, fresh off a great run at Martinsville, and grandson Jeffrey Earnhardt, Dale Junior’s nephew, will be running for the first time ever at the famed restrictor plate track.
Both young men have great shoes to fill. When it comes to Talladega, their father and grandfather was one of the best. In fact, Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s last ever win came at that track ten years ago.
On October 15th, 2010, Earnhardt took his black No. 3 to victory lane in his most intimidating fashion. Earnhardt, who qualified 20th, was running back in the pack before mounting an unbelievable late race charge to the front, pushed by none other than Kenny Wallace.
“He never gave up,” team owner Richard Childress said of Earnhardt’s surprising win. “The race fans got the race they deserved today.”
“It was wild,” Earnhardt said as he climbed out of his car to celebrate the win and the $1 million Winston No Bull bonus. “I didn’t have any thought that I had a chance of winning this race. It was a chess game of getting there and staying there and it just worked out for us to be there at the right time.”
Ten years later, that Earnhardt magic is still most likely hanging in the air that is so critical to drivers finding their way in the draft around the Talladega Superspeedway. And as the spirit of Earnhardt permeates the track and Earnhardt nation rallies yet again, the Earnhardt heirs can only hope that luck and destiny will go their way as they take to the track.
For the third straight year, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s primary sponsor, Amp Energy, will sponsor the Halloween weekend Cup race. Junior’s car will also carry a special paint scheme featuring a new short film entitled “The Legend of Hallowdega”.
While Dale Junior’s record at Talladega, five wins, is the most for him at any track, he barely rivals his father’s ten wins at the superspeedway. In 21 Cup starts at ‘Dega, Junior has eight top-five finishes and 11 top-ten finishes in addition to his wins there.
“I just look forward to going back to Talladega and always enjoy racing there,” Dale Jr. said. “We’ve always been good and fast there. I hope we can get up front, lead a lot of laps and be there at the end.”
“I want to be in position to make a move for the win,” Junior continued. “We haven’t really been in position at the end of these races like we need to, so we’ll try to be a little more aggressive throughout the race and try to keep ourselves in that position.”
In the spirit of his father, however, Junior does see the value of being in the back of the pack and holding the strength of the car in the draft close to the vest.
“A lot of the fans probably don’t like the guys that go ride in the back, but when they come up into the pack in the last 20 laps nobody really knows what kind of player they are and how strong they are,” Junior said, sounding eerily familiar to his late father’s last race strategy. “That is a good hand to hold you know. When you haven’t shown everybody all day long what kind of moves you are capable of making, you can catch people off guard.”
Junior’s crew chief, Lance McGrew, agrees with his driver on this strategy. “There is a time and a place to go,” McGrew said. “You have to be really smart and take your runs when you can get them but only when you can do something with them.”
“As the race goes on it gets more and more complicated like the end of the chess match,” McGrew continued. “Your moves get more critical.”
While Dale Earnhardt, Jr. plans to build on the confidence and momentum that he garnered after leading laps and finishing seventh at Martinsville, his nephew Jeffrey Earnhardt, son of Kerry Earnhardt, who will make his Talladega debut in the Truck Series.
Jeffrey Earnhardt, the next generation of the Earnhardt legacy, will take the wheel of the No. 6 Fuel Doctor/Firestop Chevy for the Mountain Dew 250 for Rick Ware Racing.
Earnhardt has been running a limited schedule this season in the Truck Series. This will be just his fourth start with the Rick Ware Racing team, his previous starts coming at Las Vegas, Kentucky and O’Reilly Raceway Park.
The youngest Earnhardt takes his debut very seriously, understanding fully the mantle of his most famous last name, particularly at Talladega.
“It would be awesome for the family, friends and fans to celebrate this weekend with a win,” Earnhardt said. “I know we have a great truck that is capable of being in victory lane. We just have to race clean and smart and if everything goes well, we can all look up and smile at the end of the night.”
With both son and grandson participating in the race festivities at undoubtedly one of Dale Earnhardt’s favorite race tracks, there is no doubt that there will be an angel looking down proudly at the end of this race weekend, whatever the outcome. And the Earnhardt legacy will live on at Talladega.