Story By: DREW BROWN / TRACKHOUSE RACING – CONCORD, NC – The Polar Bear is coming out of hibernation for the first time in nearly 24 years.
For the Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR highlighted by the May 8 Goodyear 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Trackhouse Racing will field two NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolets honoring the first time Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever drove a Cup Series car in competition, and the first time he raced head-to-head with his legendary father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The Earnhardts squared off during an exhibition race at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi on November 22, 1998. Earnhardt Jr. drove the black No. 1 Dale Earnhardt, Inc. entry featuring Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears, while Dale Sr. drove a Coca-Cola red No. 3 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing.
Ironically, it was Dale Sr. who made the black No. 3 Chevrolet the most recognizable in the sport’s history, while Dale Jr. went on to launch his meteoric career in a Budweiser red No. 8 Chevrolet.
Nearly a quarter century later and a half a world away, NASCAR fans will get to see those liveries race when Trackhouse Racing enters Chevrolet Camaros for No. 1 driver Ross Chastain and No. 99 Daniel Suárez in paint schemes nearly identical to those the Earnhardts raced in Japan.
“We wanted to do something that honors the legacy of the sport, recognizes our valued partners at Trackhouse Racing and something that fans can get behind,” said Trackhouse Founder and Owner Justin Marks.
“We think this is the right combination marrying the history of the Earnhardts who are both hall of famers, acknowledging our support from Coke and Chevrolet, plus supporting the fans excitement for Throwback Weekend in Darlington.”
Trackhouse Racing, in its second year, has visited victory lane twice in 2022 with Chastain winning at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on March 27 and at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on April 24th. Suárez has led the ninth most laps of any driver this season.
Marks made an appearance on the “Dale Jr. Download” podcast Tuesday afternoon to surprise Earnhardt Jr. with a video of the two paint schemes.
Dale Jr. said lining up the same sponsor 24 years later, with identical paint schemes, fonts and manufacturer for two cars are like all the planets aligning or the arrival of Haley’s Comet that appears about every 75 years.
“This is such a special thing. I don’t know if you will ever have all this line up like this again,” said Dale Jr. who admitted he is partial to the No. 1 car – the car he drove in Japan.
“The No. 1 is the car. That’s the car i drove. It almost takes my breath away.”
He said all Earnhardt fans will enjoy watching the cars race in Darlington.
“This is an honor for me. I am very touched,” said Dale Jr. “It’s going to make a lot of Earnhardt fans very happy to see both cars out on the racetrack. (Trackhouse Racing) has been knocking out of the park on performance so I am sure they are going to be up front. for a lot of the fans to see on television.”
Dale Jr. said he is a strong supporter of Throwback Weekend in Darlington.
“It is important that we stay linked to our history and it’s important we acknowledge it and celebrate it. The fact that (Trackouse Racing) really does appreciate it means a lot to me.”
Marks and Dale Jr. discussed the 1998 race that led to the legendary story of Earnhardt Jr. using new tires to pass his seven-time champion father in the final 10 laps. Father and son engaged in more than words after the race with Earnhardt Sr. throwing his shoe at his son in a dressing room.
“To be correct (Sunday in Darlington), Daniel is going to have to throw his shoe at Ross after the race in a rented modular home,” laughed Dale Jr.
The race in Motegi was the final of three yearly non-points races held in Japan after the conclusion of the regular season. In 1996 and 1997 NASCAR held the race on the road course at the Suzuka Circuit before moving to the oval at Motegi. Rusty Wallace won in 1996 while Mike Skinner won in 1997 and 1998.
Then Xfinity Series Champion Dale Jr.’s debut at Motegi in 1998 came in the No. 1 car that Steve Park campaigned for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 1998. Park had tested the car but an accident at Homestead-Miami Speedway that month meant Dale Jr. took to the track in Japan with no testing laps.
Marks appearance on the “Dale Jr. Download” airs tonight at 8 p.m.
The Download connects racing’s past, present, and future with dynamic guests, candid commentary, and thoughtful conversation from Dale Jr. and co-host Mike Davis. New episodes of The Download drop every Tuesday. New episodes of the cut-down TV version drop Thursdays on NBC’s streaming platform, Peacock.
The Trackhouse Racing schemes are in keeping with “The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR,” during which the industry honors the sport’s history. Nearly all the NASCAR Cup Series teams will sport throwback paint schemes in the Goodyear 400.
Trackhouse Owner Justin Marks to Drive Skoal Bandit in Pre-race Ceremonies
Trackhouse Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro paint schemes aren’t the only throwbacks this weekend. Founder and owner Justin Marks will make laps in the pre-race ceremonies driving the 1991 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet that Harry Grant drove to four consecutive Cup Series victories in 1991.
Marks bought the Oldsmobile from Gant’s former Crew Chief Andy Petree this year and parked the historic vehicle in the lobby at Trackhouse Racing in Concord, N.C.
“We were joking around about taking it to Darlington and making some laps and NASCAR really liked the idea,” said Marks. “I think it is going to be really cool Sunday to bring the Skoal Bandit back and have some fun with it. I promise I’ll pull off the track so we can get the Cup race started.”
Gant earned the nickname “Mr. September” in 1991 after winning all four September Cup races (Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville) and two Busch races (Richmond and Dover) at age 51. The four consecutive cup victories tied the modern era record set in 1972. Dominating at the next race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Gant had his brakes fail, ending his hopes of five consecutive victories.