Volume II, Issue 9, Page 22

NEWS & ANALYSIS

The Wait is Over

Earnhardt Talks About #88 in ‘08


     
The ‘Earnhardt Nation’ breathed a collective sigh of relief as the car number and sponsors for Jr.’s ’08 season finally dropped. Earnhardt will drive the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolets next season. Apparently, it was the same for Jr., too, "To be able to announce our new sponsorship partners, car number and paint schemes for 2008 is a big relief for me, and I know it is for my fans as well.” And in what may a huge understatement, he added, “This year has been full of major decisions and changes, and I'm really happy with the outcome.

"We are aligned with powerful brands, Mountain Dew, AMP Energy, and the National Guard, each with traits that everybody can identify with. And we are racing with a number that's very relevant to me, the No. 88. It's hard not to already be excited for the 2008 season," said Jr.

In a deja vu move of epic proportions quite a bit of history cycled back into Jr.’s plans for next year. The number, 88, has a personal history for Jr. as Ralph Earnhardt, his grandfather, drove a No. 88 Petty Enterprises "Oldsmobile 88" in the 1957 Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Ralph Earnhardt also piloted the No. 188 entries for Petty in seven events that season, posting three top-10 results and six top-15s. Of course, that was before Dale Jr. was around. In the time when Jr. was growing up, the number was used by some of the top modern names in NASCAR. The list of drivers who have piloted a No. 88 car in NASCAR Cup-level competition reads like an all-star race roster. Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker, Geoffrey Bodine, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, Benny Parsons, Jim Paschal, Fireball Roberts, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip and Joe Weatherly have all taken turns wheeling it. The number is currently campaigned by Yates Racing, which has released it for the 2008 season. It’s also the number Jr. uses on the NASCAR Busch car he owns.

Jr. has always been big on history and tradition and went on about his new number, “But the number itself, having been a big fan of the car that Darrell and Rusty and Ricky Rudd drove, the 88 from the early '80s, Bobby Allison drove it, that car was prominent at that time, in that era. Dale Jarrett has had a lot of success with that number, who is a great friend of mine, a guy I respect quite a bit. I feel like he would be really happy and proud of this.

”So I like the fact that the number has some history. That makes me feel very proud to have it. I'm very excited about it. That was what some of the other options sort of lacked, was that they didn't have any true history or true greatness behind them, no substance.

”So this was really sort of a gold mine, in effect, for me because of the heritage that it had. I was really proud of that, and very happy that we were able to be part of that and to make that our own.”

Jr.’s car owner for next year, Rick Hendrick admitted to trying to fool the press on just what number would be used for his latest driver. “We did all kinds of things to throw you guys off. We got licenses for different numbers. We even had our decal people print bogus numbers thinking you'd pick them up. But you guys are just too good.”

In a totally hands-on move, Jr. got involved with the design and graphics of his new rides. “Yeah, I was fortunate enough, our new partners were willing to give me some opportunities to put some ideas together, get a shot at seeing if we could design some things that would be entertaining, not only for my fans, but our sponsors as well. Really make a great-looking race car.

”Me and a friend of mine named Kevin King, who helped design a lot of the JR Motorsports stuff up to this point--logos, race cars, what have you-- we put together several ideas… I'm really, really proud of them. I think they're really, really good-looking cars. The sponsors and the numbers all pop well. The scheme is basic and clean. I really enjoy it.

”I told Rick when we first started talking about the contract that it was really important to me that it was in the contract that my car had color matching side skirts. He calls my sister and jokes with Kelley, says, 'He doesn't really care about the big stuff; he's a real nitpicker'. We've had a lot of fun with those little things.”

The number isn’t the only element with a NASCAR history. Pepsi-Cola, the maker of Mountain Dew AMP Energy, has been involved in racing NASCAR since 1949. Their Mountain Dew brand was on Darrell Waltrip's, Junior Johnson championship-winning Cup entries in 1981 and 1982 and later on the Gatorade cars that ran the #88.

Another existing Hendricks Motorsports sponsor, the Army National Guard, explained their choice. "Dale Jr. is the real deal," said Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, director, Army National Guard. "He is authentic, talented and focused on victory, which mirrors what America's National Guard Soldier is all about. Every mission, every time America calls on us, whether at home or abroad, victory is the only goal that matters.”