BY AARON BURNS, @AaronClayBurns
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s walls reverberated with the guttural sound of NASCAR history on Monday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. unloaded his father’s famous No. 8 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Nova — the same car the elder Earnhardt drove to multiple NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in the 1980s — then climbed in and rolled it onto pit road.
The glossy black paint stood out in the sunlight. The bright, white “Goodwrench” decals almost popped off the car. The silver, slanted No. 8 looked as tough as it did in the 1980s.
All I could think was, damn. This is incredible.
Seven people witnessed this spectacle from pit road. I was one of them and, believe me, I’m thankful. I’ve gotten to know Dale over the past eight years from my time in journalism and public relations.
I’d planned on exchanging pleasantries before he left. Like he did to opponents in his heyday, Earnhardt beat me to it. He saw me, walked over and shook my hand.
“Hey man! Good to see you. How’s it going?”
Aside from being a successful racing driver, Earnhardt is a phenomenal guy — arguably the most approachable, unassuming sports superstar of his time.
He’s a legend.
I’ve also won four straight races at Talladega Superspeedway, but Earnhardt went to victory lane after his wins. I unplugged my Xbox and went to bed after mine.
Earnhardt, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith and I chatted for a moment about our childhoods spent at the race track and how the late Bill Connell, the speedway’s longtime public address announcer, made attending the races even more exciting.
Finally, Earnhardt was back in the car he spent nearly two years renovating.
Clad in a gray hooded sweatshirt, jeans and his beloved Asics sneakers, Earnhardt put on his helmet, re-fired the car and sped down pit road toward Turn 1.
A man named Dale Earnhardt was driving a black Goodwrench Chevrolet on a warm, sunny afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was 1987 again. I could feel gas prices plummeting, my hair becoming a mullet and the internet fading into oblivion.
I could hear Connell’s booming voice as the car rounded Turn 2:
Earnhardt lapped the track a few times, pulled in and let Smith have a go as three of us documented the goings-on with iPhone cameras, regular cameras and video cameras.
Then, Earnhardt handed the helmet to Josh Berry — one of his Xfinity Series drivers — and L.W. Miller, JR Motorsports’ director of motorsports, for a couple of laps.
Earnhardt grinned as he watched each of his friends climb out of the car. You could tell he’d enjoyed this little jaunt into the past as much as everyone else.
As he loaded up the car with help from Berry and Miller, Earnhardt posed a question to no one in particular: “That was fun, wasn’t it?”
Yes, Dale. It was a blast.
Come back any time.