CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Pepsi of Johnson City are teaming up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bristol Motor Speedway.
A white and gold No. 88 Chevrolet with a special BMS logo, which Earnhardt will race later this month at the IRWIN Tools Night Race, was unveiled Tuesday at The Epicentre in downtown Charlotte.
“I like this car. I think it will look good under the lights,” Earnhardt said. “This is my favorite race track. It blows me away at the rate they’ve built race tracks over the past 10 years that nobody has tried to duplicate Bristol with the success that they’ve had.
“It’s been a phenomenal event for us and one of the marquee events on the series.”
For the Johnson City bottling plant, it was the opportunity to team with one of sports’ biggest icons as well as the state’s largest sports venue.
“It’s great to partner with the most popular driver and the most popular race track,” said Tim Swecker, unit sales manager for Pepsi of Johnson City. “We’re really excited about our ability to team up with Bristol and to bring Dale Jr. into that same picture. Locally, it’s just nice to be a part of it.”
Jerry Caldwell, BMS vice president and general manager, believed history was made with the unique partnership. To his knowledge, it is the only time a race track has been able to celebrate its anniversary with a paint scheme on a race car.
He said it was a no-brainer when it came to which driver to partner with.
“As a promoter, what other driver would you pick?” Caldwell said. “It’s no slight to anyone else, but we all would pick him. There’s nothing better than to put your logo on Dale Junior’s car and run it during your race.”
It is a race that Earnhardt won in 2004, and a race he ranks with his Daytona 500 victory that season among his all-time biggest wins.
Earnhardt also won the Food City 250 in 2004, making him the first driver in history to sweep Nationwide and Cup Series races at Bristol in the same weekend.
“That was definitely one of my best memories of being there,” said the 36-year-old driver. “But I had a lot of great memories as a kid watching on the roof of a Komfort Koach van. The first time I remember coming was 1984, the year Terry (Labonte) won the championship. I was there in 1985 for both races my dad won, including the race the old man drove without any power steering. There is no other track like it.”
Earnhardt has 18 career wins, the last coming at Michigan nearly three years ago. However, he remains the biggest name in the sport, the most popular driver for eight consecutive years.
Swecker called the teaming with Earnhardt a unique opportunity, but had his doubts that such a partnership could be reached.
“We first started talking about this in November or December,” Swecker said. “It was kind of a pie in the sky thing thinking if we could do this. It really makes it that much nicer for us.”
Partnering with Earnhardt is just the latest pre-event promotion with high-profile NASCAR personalities that Bristol Motor Speedway has announced in recent weeks.
Before that, BMS had a press conference with Jamie McMurray in Sevierville and took the local media corps to a visit of Richard Childress Racing, where drivers Clint Bowyer and recent Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard were in attendance.
Caldwell said the drivers have been willing to participate because they have the same goal as track officials.
“It’s not been easy, but it’s because of the team we have at the race track and the relationships we’ve built over the years,” Caldwell said. “This one was brought to us by Pepsi, but all of the drivers want us to get back on a sellout streak.”
Caldwell said the speedway should announce as early as today that certain sections of the track have been sold out. He added it will be close if the speedway does not reach a sellout for the Aug. 27 race.
Earnhardt, who ranks 10th in the current Sprint Cup point standings, likes his chances every time he visits the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” In 23 previous Bristol starts, Earnhardt has seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
“I feel like when I go to Bristol, I can win anytime I show up there,” he said. “I really like the race track and I really enjoy racing there. It suits my style of racing.
“I feel like I excel on the short tracks, and if you look back at the recent years, we’ve been one of the best teams on the short tracks. I feel like short-track racing is what I was born to do. When I go to Bristol, I feel real confident.”