NASCAR’s 13-time Most Popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has always referred to Talladega Superspeedway as somewhat of a second home. And why not - he has won six times at the historic venue, only to follow his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., who holds the track record of ten victories. Dale Jr. and the Earnhardt name also have an incredible connection with the original Alabama Gang – Bobby & Donnie Allison, and Red Farmer.
(Hear from Dale Earnhardt Jr. about the Alabama Gang in the featured video)
As a result, the famed Alabama Gang – which has enjoyed great success at Talladega Superspeedway over the years - made Dale Jr. one of their own Thursday. During a memorable day that featured history reborn, the trio of Bobby, Donnie and Red - who helped to not only put the state of Alabama on the map in the world of motorsports, but also became legends in the entire motorsports community - awarded the third-generation driver the prestigious position of “Honorary Member” into the iconic and esteemed Alabama Gang.
Talladega Superspeedway celebrated the occasion by bringing back its popular “2 for $88” ticket package for the highly anticipated Alabama 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (NSCS), set for Sunday, Oct. 23. The “2 for $88” ticket offer is named in recognition of Dale Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and his father’s No. 2 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that took the 1980 NASCAR Sprint Cup title. The “2 for 88” offer is available for a limited time – 88 hours – and begins Friday morning at 8 am CDT before concluding on Monday at midnight CDT. The package gives fans over $42 savings off the regular price for two Lincoln Grandstand tickets to the cut-off race in the Round of 12 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. For more information, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/dalejr.
“What an incredible honor this is today,” said Dale Jr., who was presented a large framed print that featured Red, Donnie and Bobby, captioning the words “Welcome to the Gang, Dale Earnhardt Jr.” printed on the border, and complemented with signed personal messages on the back. “Words can’t describe what I am feeling right now. These legends – what they have meant to motorsports both on and off the track is second to none. They were role models to me as a kid and are even more so today.
“And, this place – Talladega Superspeedway – is a special place. There is no other place like it. It has meant so much to me and my family with my Dad (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) winning here so many times (10). There is no better race track in the world to drive or to watch a race. While I won’t be competing in the Alabama 500 in a few weeks (because of concussion-type symptoms that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the 2016 season), I will be back all three days to watch the race and to pull for my team and Alex (Bowman) behind the wheel. I wouldn’t miss it. Plus, I will get to see many of my fans on race day as part of the track’s Fan Q&A. This is just a special place that really ties us all together – the track, the Earnhardt’s and the Alabama Gang.”
The highlight of the day came when Donnie climbed in the cockpit of Earnhardt Sr.’s blue and yellow 1980 No. 2 Chevy. Donning an old-school helmet, he drove around the track for a couple of laps before parking it on-track near the historic race cars of the Alabama Gang trio (Donnie’s 1969 No. 27 Ford, Red’s 1972 No. 97 Ford, and Bobby’s 1988 No. 12 Buick) on the track’s Alabama Gang Superstretch. All four cars are housed in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHOF), located adjacent to TSS.
“It was so cool to see that car on the track,” admitted Dale Jr., who also took a tour of the IMHOF with the trio earlier in the day. “Dad would have been proud, especially knowing that Donnie was driving it. Dad had a really good friendship with Donnie and admired Bobby and Red. It took me back in time. It was just awesome.”
“It's really awesome for me since I got the privilege to drive it and let Dale Jr. see it,” said Donnie. “Felt like I was back at home behind the wheel.”
The Earnhardt, Alabama Gang and Talladega Superspeedway connection started many years ago. In late 1956, Red, a two-time ARCA Series winner at Talladega and winner of nearly 800 races on asphalt and dirt, raced against Dale Jr.’s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, in an event in Concord, NC. The race featured two series in the same event –NASCAR Sportsman and NASCAR Modified. Both drivers finished high enough to win their respective national NASCAR championships – Red for the Modified and Ralph for the Sportsman division.
“The bloodline is obvious when you talk about the Earnhardts,” said Red, who belies his 83 years of age, amazingly still competes – and is successful - in Late Model cars on dirt tracks across Alabama. “Ralph was an incredible competitor and I remember racing him hard, then we sat beside each other at the banquet to collect our trophy and little bit of cash from Bill France, Sr. I have always had a great respect for Ralph, Dale Sr. and Dale Jr.”
Bobby, the 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and four-time Talladega Superspeedway winner, had many battles on-track with Dale Sr. In fact, they finished 1-2 on four occasions with Bobby holding the edge of 3-1. One of those triumphs for Bobby came in May of 1986 at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track – Talladega Superspeedway.
“We know what this state, this race track and the relationships that we have mean to not only Dale Jr., but to us as well,” said Bobby, who along with Donnie and Red, moved to the Hueytown, AL area from Miami, FL in the late 1950s and early 1960s and enjoyed tremendous success on short tracks in the region. “We feel like Dale is one of us, and we are glad to make him a part of the Alabama Gang.”
It is Donnie with whom Dale Jr. probably has the closest relationship. Before Dale Sr. would let Dale Jr. drive a race car, he wanted his son to gain knowledge of the cars and how they were built from the ground up. Dale Sr. asked Donnie if Dale Jr., 17 years old at the time, could work for he and his sons – Donald, Kenny and Ronald - with Allison Brothers Race Cars (Salisbury, NC), which were building Legends Series race cars. Dale Jr. worked for the group for six months and gained a first-hand education.
“Dale Sr. called me one day and said ‘hey, can you put Dale Jr. to work…I can’t do anything with him.’ And, I said ‘send him on up here,” recalled Donnie (winner of 10 NSCS wins, including two at TSS) of that day back in the 1992. “’We will give him a job.’ He was a typical kid, just needed a little direction. He worked with us for six months. I am proud of what he has become. He is one of us.”
“They really taught me everything, as far as the basics from the ground up,” Dale Jr. said of Donnie and his sons. “I really learned a little bit of everything from those guys – use a torch, learn how to cut and weld. I was able to take that (knowledge) back to my father and prove that I had what it took (to become a driver).”
One time, while still in the learning process, Dale Jr. “was washing parts and got some washing fluid on my shirt. We started torching some spindles and I actually set myself on fire when sparks hit. Sparks even got on the torch hose and it caught on fire. Kenny (Allison) comes over and kicks me out of the way, turns the torch over and kicks the fires out. That was a great time in my life,” Dale Jr. laughed.
In addition to the framed print, the original Alabama Gang – all members of the IMHOF - presented Dale Jr. with items from their private collection of memorabilia. Red presented Dale Jr. with a photo from the NASCAR Awards Banquet in 1956 that showcased Red and Ralph together hoisting their title trophies. Donnie gave the unique gift of copies of old pay checks (signed by Donnie, his wife Pat, Donald, Kenny and Ronald) that were earned by Dale Jr. while working for Allison Brothers Race Cars (Allison Legacy Series). One check was for $50 while most were for $151.86. And, Bobby presented Dale with a vintage whiskey decanter that was a look-a-like of his No. 15 Ford Thunderbird, owned by Bud Moore, and driven to victory in 14 races over three years (1978-1980).
Fans can see Dale Jr. as part of the Sunday (Oct. 23) Fan Question/Answer Session through various options – the “Pre-Race Pit Pass Upgrade” for $75; as well as the Sunday VIP Experience with Glenn Jarrett ($399) and Unrestricted VIP Package ($599), which both offer a special, reserved, front row vantage to watch the Fan Q&A. For all three upgrade options, each guest must have a grandstand ticket to the Alabama 500.
Talladega Superspeedway’s action-packed weekend kicks off on Friday (Oct. 21) with practice sessions for both the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race and the Alabama 500. Saturday’s schedule includes qualifying for the NCWTS fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola (9:30 a.m. CDT), Foodland/Food Giant Qualifying for the NSCS (3:00 p.m. CDT) and the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola, which gets the green flag at 12 Noon CDT. The Alabama 500 is set for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. CDT. To purchase tickets, simply visitwww.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 1-877-Go2-DEGA.
(Courtesy: Talladega Superspeedway Media Relations: www.talladegasuperspeedway.com)