Racing Chevys in Florida is old hat for Dale Earnhardt, fondly known to his legions of fans as "The Intimidator," and his son, Dale Jr. However, until a few days before this last Thanksgiving, those Chevy race cars were NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch series Monte Carlos. That all changed on Tuesday, November 22, when the Earnhardts took turns behind the wheel of the No. 3 Goodwrench Service Plus Corvette C5-R at Sebring International Raceway.
The news that the father and son NASCAR stars would be teaming up with Andy Pilgrim for the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona was announced last October 17 (see Currents in the Feb. '01 issue for the details). At that time, Corvette Brand Manager Rick Baldick said, "It's fitting that two American icons join forces for America's premier endurance race." And, we'd like to add, particularly fitting that they do so in America's Sports Car! This will be the first time that the pair will be sharing the driving chores on a single car rather than competing against one another. Interestingly, Dale Earnhardt drives the Winston Cup #3 Goodwrench Monte Carlos for team owner Richard Childress, while Junior drives Budweiser-sponsored Monte Carlos for-Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated. Hmmm!
Initial preparations for the Corvette Racing team's 2001 racing season kicked off at Sebring during a three-day test session, Monday, November 20 through Wednesday, November 22. This session also provided the first opportunity for Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to actually get behind the wheel of the #3 Corvette C5-R, which they'll co-drive with Andy Pilgrim during Speedweeks at Daytona next February.
Both Earnhardts, father and son, were delayed a day as they had to complete the rain-delayed season-ending NASCAR Winston Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Monday, November 20. Dale's second-place finish in the #3 GM Goodwrench, Monte Carlo secured second place for the seven-time Winston Cup champ in the final points standings. Dale Jr.'s impressive rookie campaign in the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo was completed with his 20th-place finish.
"This is something I've been wanting to do for quite a few years, but I was hesitant to do it until the right opportunity came along," said Earnhardt prior to the test session. "I want to assure you that we're here to learn and be a part of this team, and try to be a competitive part of it. I'm totally green at this road racing, but I'm excited about working with Andy (Pilgrim) and Ron (Fellows), and the rest of the drivers that I, and Dale Jr., can learn from. We're here to learn, we're here as part of the team. We're not special guys. We're really rookies."
Earnhardt Jr. echoed his father's sentiments. "Like dad said, we have a large lack of experience, and I'm just trying to pick up what I can, learn as much as I can so I can be as competitive as possible when the 24-hour race comes around. This is a neat deal and I'm really excited about it."
Teammate Andy Pilgrim came away from the test session impressed by the performance of both father and son.
"I think both of them did an awesome job," Pilgrim said, "and I'm not just saying that. I mean, to jump into a car you've never been in before and at a track you've never even seen before, and then to get up to speed as fast as they both did-I think it's just fantastic. I'm very impressed. We should have a good team at Daytona."
Earnhardt evaluated the challenges that lie ahead for Dale Jr. and himself. "Probably the biggest challenge is going to be adapting to the difference in weight from a Winston Cup car and how it reacts under braking. Ron Fellows jumps into a Winston Cup car and makes it look easy, but I'm sure this is not going to be easy. But, I think if this thing had a 10-disc CD player in it, Junior might be up all night driving!" Maybe they'll do it in next year.