Car graveyard, Victory Lane part of Dale Jr. legacy
May 22, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a vision: That one day, decades or centuries from now, more advanced humans will wander through the woods outside Mooresville, North Carolina, and stumble across a graveyard of wrecked stock cars -- dozens upon dozens of them, comprising an automotive Stonehenge replete with its own mysteries and secrets.
"Just like that Western town I built," Earnhardt said, referring to Whisky River, another curiosity on his spread north of Charlotte, "it will be there hopefully long after I'm gone, and somebody will walk back there and go, 'What in the hell is this doing here? And who put it here?' And then my name will come up, and they'll remember me."
Chances are they'll remember Earnhardt anyway, since he owns two Daytona 500 titles and seems capable of much more given the performance he's shown this season. But beyond a Sprint Cup Series championship, there's something else looming out there for NASCAR's most popular driver -- a points victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track he's visited since he was a kid, and which Sunday once again hosts the Coca-Cola 600. Earnhardt's only victories at Charlotte came in the 2000 All-Star exhibition and the qualifier for the Sprint All-Star Race in 2012, the Sprint Showdown, leaving him winless in points events at what's essentially his home track.
That's a glaring omission for a driver whose earliest memories of a Cup event include watching qualifying for the 600 in 1983 from the press box. Once the condominiums went up in Turn 1 and 2, he watched many Charlotte races from the balcony of the unit his family owned. Later on as a teenager, he'd watch along with family members and cousin Tony Eury Jr. from the hill overlooking the final turn of the track's infield road course. Earnhardt's father won five times at Charlotte, including a 1993 Coca-Cola 600 that ranks among the best ever editions of the Memorial Day weekend classic.
No wonder, then, Earnhardt calls the 600 "definitely a race I'd love to win." And no wonder he's irritated by his relative lack of success here -- his average finish is 19th, and best chance to claim the 600 came in 2011, when he led off the final corner but ran out of fuel and settled for seventh.
"It's frustrating that I haven't won a race here aside form the All-Star event," Earnhardt said. "We've had some good cars, but nowhere near good enough."
Perhaps a Superman paint scheme, which is appearing on Earnhardt's No. 88 car this weekend, will help. Asked during his Thursday afternoon media session which superpower he'd prefer, Earnhardt was quick with an answer -- superhuman strength. "You could impress your friends and show off for the ladies," he said. Maybe he'd go to a junkyard and "toss some cars around or something. Because that would be harmless, right?"
It would certainly help in his effort to add more crashed cars to his graveyard, which this week brought two new arrivals in the vehicles Justin Allgaier and David Gilliland wrecked at Kansas two weeks ago. Earnhardt has been collecting wrecked race cars for a long time, back to when his JR Motorsports race team was competing in late models. They spent so much money building cars, he said, that rather than scrap the wrecked ones, he started stashing them in the woods around his property. Maybe half the cars out there, Earnhardt estimated, are connected to his company.
They used them for target practice, or as trail markers, and over time the collection grew. Brad Keselowski contributed a car his father owned, which Dennis Setzer crashed in a Nationwide race at Talladega. There's one of Keselowski's old trucks, the front end buried in a creek. "It's real funny-looking sticking out like that," Earnhardt said. He started calling around, asking other teams for notable cars. He has the car Juan Pablo Montoya was driving when he struck the jet dryer at Daytona, although Chip Ganassi donated it with the caveat that photos not be taken. He has the Jimmie Johnson car penalized for its C-posts at Daytona, which was wrecked early in that race.
To get the Allgaier car from Kansas, he just called his buddy Steve Addington, the crew chief and competition director for owner Harry Scott Jr.'s team. "I know Harry Scott pretty well," Earnhardt said, "so I figured if they were going to throw it away, I could at least have it."
He's not sure exactly how many cars are out there, given that he has stray sides and noses scattered around the property, not to mention oddities like hoods hanging from trees. "The hard part is, people want to know if there's tours or if they can come look at it," Earnhardt said. "So I feel kind of bad, because it's on my property."
Fans can see photos of many of the graveyard cars on Earnhardt's Twitter feed, given that he's posted pictures of several recent additions since joining the social network in the wake of his most recent Daytona 500 victory in February. Earnhardt will certainly accumulate more of them in the near future, though he hopes his Superman-themed Coca-Cola 600 car isn't one of them. He'd prefer to fly that thing straight to Victory Lane.