Dale Earnhardt Jr. wears many hats in the NASCAR world. Driver. Commentator. Team owner. Historian of the sport. Curator. The latest hat comes as he chose the theme and the 18 cars for the fourth generation of Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that is now open and will run for three years: “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions.”
“It was a real honor to be asked,” Earnhardt Jr. said of his participation in the exhibit. “To have any involvement with anything that goes on at the Hall of Fame — this is where you learn about our sport. This is where you can really understand and grow the sport. This is where you learn everything you need to know about NASCAR right here.”
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Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Winston Kelley said a guest curator project was a concept he and his team had kicked around quite a bit and there was one standout reason to have Dale Jr. be the first to do it.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is being authentic,” Kelley said. “We’ve talked about this concept for a long time and candidly, Dale Jr. was the first one we wanted to work with because of his authentic passion for the sport.”
Earnhardt Jr. indicated that while the theme was a no brainer to represent the “best of the best,” the process of getting down to 18 cars was a bit tougher. Two on the initial list of 18 (Dale Jarrett‘s 1999 Ford Taurus and Bobby Labonte‘s 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix) were committed elsewhere. The 15-time NMPA Most Popular Driver Award winner is proud of the selections and to have the actual cars in one place.
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“These aren’t remakes. These aren’t cars that someone else drove or painted it like Rusty Wallace‘s car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That‘s the car that he competed in in that particular year. That to me means the most. When the fans come here and they look at that exhibit, they know in their heart and they know in their mind, that car was out on the race track and getting the job done. There‘s no better representation of the history of the sport than the real stuff.”
One of the cars — the 1980 Blue and Yellow Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by his father, Dale Earnhardt, kicks off the exhibit and is Dale Jr.‘s favorite in the display. The NASCAR history buff was involved in restoring part of the vehicle himself and the car has a special meaning to him.
“Dad drove that car at Ontario in the final race of the season,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He asked (car owner) Rod (Osterlund) to let him have it. That car came to the shop that’s next to Martha‘s (Dale Jr.’s grandmother) house in Kannapolis and sat on jack stands around the shop for probably three years. Stripped down, no motor. And me and Tony (Eury) Jr. would run circles around that car and pick Bondo off of it. Dad hit the right side a little bit so the car‘s got a ton of Bondo on it. I tried to go to that shop all the time with dad because I loved hanging out there.”
“He sent it to a guy in Kannapolis around 1984 and got it restored and then it went directly to the (International Motorsports) Hall of Fame in Alabama. And it had been there ever since and then they gave it to me in 2017. Through the 80‘s, 90‘s, anytime I would be in Alabama, I‘d go look at that car because I knew its history. Once I got the car, I wanted to decal it just the way it raced in Ontario when it came off the race track after he won his championship.”
Earnhardt Jr. did a lot of research on the car and learned even more about the car than he could have imagined. It turns out that car won at Atlanta and Charlotte in 1980 and David Pearson won with it at Darlington in 1979.
“My quest to learn more about history is unfulfilled and experiences like this add to it and improve my knowledge,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Anytime you get included in the conversation about history, it is an opportunity to learn and I certainly jumped at the chance to do this.”
The exhibit’s theme of champions covers 18 cars with 15 drivers — each of the three seven-time champion‘s in the sport (Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson) have two cars on display — from their first and seventh championships. The 15 drivers represented account for 46 of the 71 NASCAR Cup Series championships, 1,076 race wins and 14 of those drivers are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame — Johnson remains active and is not eligible for induction yet.
The full list of cars on display:
|Year||Champion Driver||Car Model|
|1951||Herb Thomas||Hudson Hornet|
|1957||Buck Baker||Chevrolet 150|
|1964||Richard Petty||Plymouth Belvedere|
|1968||David Pearson||Ford Torino|
|1973||Benny Parsons||Chevrolet Chevelle|
|1978||Cale Yarborough||Oldsmobile Cutlass 442|
|1979||Richard Petty||Oldsmobile Cutlass 442|
|1980||Dale Earnhardt||Chevrolet Monte Carlo|
|1981||Darrell Waltrip||Buick Regal|
|1983||Bobby Allison||Buick Regal|
|1988||Bill Elliott||Ford Thunderbird|
|1989||Rusty Wallace||Pontiac Grand Prix|
|1992||Alan Kulwicki||Ford Thunderbird|
|1994||Dale Earnhardt||Chevrolet Lumina|
|1997||Jeff Gordon||Chevrolet Monte Carlo|
|2002||Tony Stewart||Pontiac Grand Prix|
|2006||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet Monte Carlo|
|2016||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet SS|