Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Thursday April 27, 2006
This coming weekend is a black weekend at Talladega. Usually, that signifies tragedy, but for once, the connotation of a black weekend is a good thing.
From Friday to Sunday at Talladega, all the cars of D.E.I. are going to be painted black. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., and Paul Menard will all sport this unique paint scheme as a tribute to the founder of the company, Dale Earnhardt. It’s a perfect time for such a special event; this Saturday would have been Dale’s 55th birthday, and Dale is also being inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame this weekend. So, as a tribute the #8 and #11 Busch Series cars and the #1 and #8 Cup Series cars will sport a paint scheme that is very similar to the famous GM Goodwrench #3 scheme that the Intimidator made famous.
In my opinion, it’s a bit surprising that Earnhardt is only going into the Hall of Fame now. You’d think the Hall would have made a special exception in the wake of Earnhardt’s death and immediately elected him to the Hall of Fame, similar to what baseball did for Roberto Clemente over 30 years ago. Regardless, Earnhardt’s election was always a matter of when, not if. He is a seven time Cup Champion, he has four IROC championships, and he has won 76 races at the Cup level. Not only that, but the Intimidator is the main reason that merchandising is such a huge part of racing today. Earnhardt was a self-made man and a driver that most race fans could relate to; no matter who the fan is or from what socioeconomic class, everyone seemed to be able to relate to Earnhardt. The perfect champion to carry the torch into the modern NASCAR era, he was there when the series was just coming onto the national stage and he steered it, along with Bill France, into the 21st century. As popular as the sport is now, there’s no telling how even more popular it would be with Earnhardt still around.
As for the race itself Talladega itself provides the perfect stage to honor the Intimidator. No two ways about it, Earnhardt owned the place. He won 10 Cup races there, with 23 Top 5s and 27 Top 10s. His final victory came at the superspeedway in the Fall of 2000, a thrilling dash to the finish in which he came from 18th to 1st with five laps remaining to secure the win. With his many wins at Daytona as well, Earnhardt is recognized by most people as the King of Restrictor Plate racing.
Of course, as time has passed since Earnhardt’s death his son has picked up where his father left off, already winning five Cup races at Talladega. The D.E.I. organization, too, has made its name on restrictor plate tracks. The first team to truly put an emphasis on being successful at the restrictor plate venues, the team has collected 11 victories at the tracks, including that fateful Daytona 500 in 2001 when Earnhardt passed away. With the success of D.E.I., almost every organization with more than one car nowadays has a group specifically tasked with putting together a solid restrictor plate effort.
There is no doubt that seeing a black car working through the pack is going to stir some strong emotions among the faithful in attendance this Sunday. Knowing that Talladega is de facto Earnhardt country, it is going to be especially touching to see the black paint schemes circling the track this weekend. Earnhardt was always a presence on the track, but especially at Talladega. Most everyone remembers that final victory, and with these Alabama fans some of the most loyal, there were some that have been there for all ten.
I applaud the folks at DEI for choosing to honor their founder with their cars this weekend. Having been an Earnhardt fan for many years, I always looked forward to the plate races. Even when he was having his struggles at the end of the 1990s, the plate tracks always brought hope. When Earnhardt was struggling at other tracks, you always knew that he would be a threat to win when they put the plates on the cars. It won’t be quite like seeing the black #3 on the track this weekend…but it is going to be a very close second.
The only thing that could make the weekend complete for old Earnhardt fans would be to see one of the D.E.I. cars pull into Victory Lane on Sunday. I have to think Dale is going to be looking down with pride and possibly giving them an extra little push at the end of the race. It’s a black weekend, for sure…but don’t be surprised to see all smiles coming from a bunch of dedicated fans on Sunday.
Full Throttle Note: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the two race fans who were tragically killed erecting a flag pole in a campground at the track this weekend. It is a true shame that someone’s life was cut short while they were trying to show their devotion to their drivers. We wish them God’s speed.
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