On the heels of Austin Dillon‘s dominating first career victory behind the wheel of a black No. 3, made famous by Dale Earnhardt before his untimely death in 2001, Dale’s grandson Jeffrey Earnhardt is set to make his Camping World Truck Series debut. He’ll pilot the No. 6 Fuel Doctor Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing and is guaranteed a spot in the field tonight at the Gateway International Raceway based on owner points.
Like most other drivers in NASCAR, Earnhardt started racing at a young age, first competing at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va. In 2006, he joined a newly created General Motors driver development program.
In 2007, Earnhardt joined the K&N Pro Series East with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and scored a pole and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts. Four of those top 10s were finishes inside the top five, including a best finish of third in the season-ending race at Dover. He also won the Most Popular Driver award and finished fifth in the series standings. His success continued into 2008, where he scored four top-fives and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
Last season, the 21-year-old driver started two road-course races for Key Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, finishing 24th at Watkins Glen and 31st at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. He also made one start in the K&N Pro Series East, a third-place finish at the Iowa Speedway.
The two young men, linked by their grandparents’ racing history, also share the gift of a great friendship. It has Earnhardt looking forward to the chance to race against Dillon in the Truck Series this weekend and in the future.
“I have always been close to Austin, and I feel that both of us competing against each other will bring excitement to an already great series,” Earnhardt said. “His win was really cool; I was very proud of him, and I look forward to having the opportunity to do the same [one day] with RWR and Fuel Doctor.”
Also this week, ROCKY joined RWR to sponsor all of the team’s drivers, including Earnhardt. As part of the sponsorship agreement, team members will wear ROCKY’s TrailBlade footwear, and all RWR cars will sport a logo on the driver’s window. It’s pretty clear part – if not most – of the company’s involvement with the team spawned from the Earnhardt name.
“ROCKY is proud to be associated with Rick Ware Racing and Jeffrey Earnhardt. Like the Rocky name, the Earnhardt name is recognized for its great tradition, toughness and quality,” the work division marketing manager, Steve Graham said. “We are looking forward to seeing the Rick Ware Racing team outfitted in our new TrailBlade, athletic inspired safety footware.”
It’s always encouraging to see a new face join the Truck Series, but what’s even more encouraging is RWR’s Driver Development Program. They have a team in place that evaluates the skill level of potential drivers before placing them in an appropriate program based on their skill level, from Legends all the way up to the Nationwide Series.
The team features instructors who have competed in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck series. But that’s not where it stops. Potential drivers also receive instruction in marketing to learn the skill of satisfying sponsors, fans and the media.
In what is one of the only driver development programs left in NASCAR, RWR has the experience of a team owner who has his own racing background, including 19 races in the Truck Series, two starts in the Nationwide Series and one start in the Cup Series. Ware also raced in late models, ARCA, Trans-Am, IMSA and Super Production before a career ending neck and head injury pushed him in the direction of team ownership. Because of that background, Earnhardt is confident in the team he’ll be working with starting this weekend.
“It feels great to make my NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with RWR and Fuel Doctor,” he said. “Having the guaranteed starting position allows us to focus on race trim and being towards the front rather than trying to make the race.”
With a name like Earnhardt, it’s easy to expect great things straight out of the gate for Jeffrey, but a realistic goal for him would be the make sure he can get out of Gateway with his truck in one piece and take with him invaluable on-track experience. The ultimate goal is for him to race a few other events this season in an effort to get NASCAR’s approval to race at Talladega, and in turn be prepared for the 2011 season opener at Daytona.
If you happen to be attending the race at Gateway tonight, Earnhardt will be signing autographs with teammate Brett Butler this afternoon at 3:15, and the first 150 fans in line will receive a commemorative shirt from the team.
Did You Know?
- There are 44 trucks on the entry list for the CampingWorld.com 200? In what is by far the healthiest group of drivers attempting to start a Truck race in recent memory, 19 drivers will compete for the remaining 10 spots not occupied by those in the top 25 in owner points and the spot reserved for a previous series champion.
- Brad Keselowski will pilot his self-owned No. 29 Dodge in tonight’s race? This will be the first of two races with Miller Lite adorning his truck in preparation for their partnership in the Cup Series next season.
- Steve Wallace has picked up two sponsors for his fourth 2010 appearance behind the wheel of the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota? Merit Pro will have logos across Wallace’s hood and quarterpanels while Avery Graphics will be featured on the bedliner.
- Kasey Kahne will pilot Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Toyota of Scranton Tundra in two weeks at the Truck Series debut at Pocono? He has just two starts in the series in 2004 — both wins — at Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
- Aric Almirola is set to pilot the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the Nationwide race next weekend at O’Reilly Raceway Park? He is also on the short list of drivers being considered for the full-time position in the No. 88 for the 2011 season.