Final Run at LMS For Dale Jr.'s No. 8
On May 30, 1999, Dale Earnhardt Jr.climbed into the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
It was the first start in NASCAR's premier division for Dale Earnhardt's youngest son, and even though his 16th-place finish doesn't look impressive on paper, it launched a career that propelled the third-generation racer to rock-star status.
On Saturday night, Oct. 13, Earnhardt Jr. will return to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500, and there will be an entirely new set of emotions when he climbs through the window of the No. 8 Budweiser machine for the final time at his home track.
"Charlotte is where it all started for me in the Cup Series and the No. 8 Budweiser car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Qualifying for that race was probably the most nervous I've ever been in a race car. There was a lot of pressure, and that never really went away. I just got used to it.
"We went back there a year later and won The Winston All-Star race, which is definitely one of the top two highlights of my career," Earnhardt Jr. continued. "For those reasons, it would be nice to give the No. 8 Budweiser car one last good run at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It deserves it, and the fans deserve to see it."
Numerology is a popular motorsports topic and Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 has been in the headlines since he announced plans to leave the team his father founded and join Hendrick Motorsports. So it's a bit ironic that it's been eight years since Earnhardt Jr. qualified eighth for his first NEXTEL Cup Series start.
"When I was sitting down there on the end of pit road getting ready to qualify for the 600 in '99, I told Tony (Eury) Jr. that I would trade every bit of it to be in the grandstands, eating a chicken bone or something, because I was so damn nervous that I didn't think I could physically steer the car around the race track," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There were butterflies, but it wasn't about wrecking, it was about failure and the fact that I was embarking on my NEXTEL Cup career."
Obviously, Earnhardt Jr.'s fear of failure was unfounded and his résumé now includes 17 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories. He's a four-time winner of the sport's most popular driver award and is one of the most influential individuals in the motorsports industry.
Earnhardt Jr. grew up in nearby Kannapolis, N.C., and now lives in Mooresville. As a youngster, he attended races at Lowe's Motor Speedway and developed a special relationship with the track where he first drove the No.8 Budweiser Chevrolet.
"One of the best things that ‘Humpy' (Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway) ever did was build those condos over there. As a little kid I had a great view of the race track and all the races," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I couldn't wait for Charlotte to come around.
"Before then we would park on the hill in the road course in the middle of Turns 1 and 2. That was a real good vantage point. That was where the Earnhardts and the Eurys and everybody got together and parked their trucks. I was a little 10-year-old out there rolling my race cars down the banking of the road course during the race.
"I have watched a lot of races here, been to a lot of races here and just seen so much change with this race track. It makes me feel like I've got a big connection to this place and a real good relationship with the track. Even though it is not a living, breathing thing, it does have a personality and it does have a way of reaching out to you every once in a while-good and bad," Earnhardt Jr. concluded.
Tickets for the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night, Oct. 13, start at just $39 and can be obtained online or by calling the Lowe's Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS.