NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pit stops traditionally consist of four Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel, but on Thursday evening his pit-stop service included fueling up with brisket, chicken, ribs, pork chops and jalapeno sausage.
Earnhardt Jr., visiting the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to promote the upcoming AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, played host to a sold-out "BBQ Pit Stop with Dale Jr." fan event to benefit Speedway Children's Charities-Texas Chapter at Hard Eight Pit BBQ in Roanoke, Texas.
Earnhardt Jr., who has developed a passion for BBQ cooking, toured the family-owned restaurant's huge BBQ fire pits with Hard Eight Pit BBQ owner and president Chad Decker and the duo shared their BBQ tips with more than 130 guests in attendance, all while helping raise more than $32,000 for Speedway Children's Charities-Texas Chapter.
Most of the questions are about BBQ...NC vs. Kansas City vs. Texas.— Laura S. (@Hendrick88Team) October 3, 2013
#DaleJr: "The further west I go, the more I seem to like the barbecue."— Laura S. (@Hendrick88Team) October 4, 2013
"Every time I come to Texas, it's always fun," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You guys (Texas Motor Speedway fans) are so welcoming and just make me feel like part of the family."
A visit by NASCAR's most popular driver to Roanoke, nicknamed the "Unique Dining Capital of Texas," included a hero's welcome as throngs of fans lined North Oak Street of downtown Roanoke for Earnhardt Jr.'s arrival. Led by a police escort, AAA Texas 500 Chevrolet Camaro pace car and Wild Asphalt Circus vehicles, Earnhardt Jr. rode in the bed of a TMS Chevrolet Silverado similar to NASCAR pre-race parade laps, waving to fans as well as curious onlookers en route to Hard Eight Pit BBQ.
Roanoke mayor Scooter Gierisch officially welcomed Earnhardt Jr. to his quaint town of 6,500 by presenting him with a key to the city and a special proclamation that announced Oct. 3, 2013, as "Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day."
The mayor of Roanoke, TX proclaimed today as #DaleJr day and gives him a key to the city. Pretty cool!— Laura S. (@Hendrick88Team) October 4, 2013
Dale Earnhardt Jr. receives a key to the city from Roanoke Mayor Scooter Gierisch during the BBQ Pit Stop with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hard Eight BBQ on October 3, 2013 in Roanoke, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
"I'm really humbled," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I want to thank the citizens of Roanoke for allowing me to come here. This is the kind of town we like to come and visit when we're traveling to all these different race tracks and staying in the motor coaches every weekend. These are the kinds of places we like to get out to because this place is just like home, it's a small town. It's just like Mooresville (N.C.) to me."
Earnhardt Jr., a passionate grill master when he is not behind the wheel of his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, made the perfect student for Decker's BBQ 101 demonstration. To make sure Earnhardt Jr. looked the part of an official grill master, Decker presented him with a customized black chef's coat that featured the driver's iconic No. 88 and "Pit Master" embroidered on the back, Texas state flag on the sleeve and the Hard Eight Pit BBQ logo and Jr. on the front.
His lessons included a tour of Hard Eight Pit BBQ's massive fire pits and grill that featured an array of smoked meats, including brisket, ribs and steaks. Earnhardt Jr. also got into the action as he learned how Hard Eight Pit BBQ grills its signature rib eye with onions to perfection.
HardEight BBQ owner showing Dale Jr. how BBQ is done in the great state of Texas! pic.twitter.com/FsD9Euylkq— Texas Motor Speedway (@TXMotorSpeedway) October 4, 2013
"We cook some brisket and do ribs every once in a while," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've had a lot of good and bad results, but that's what it's about. I enjoy it because it is real similar to preparing a race car for a weekend of racing. There is a right way to do it and there are steps and a process. I enjoy it, plus it is something that lasts the entire day. You start in the morning getting the smoker ready and you are cooking the meat for hours on end. It's something you get your friends and families together and enjoy an entire day."
Someone is extremely excited about his dinner!! pic.twitter.com/lEYZIGkkZB— Laura S. (@Hendrick88Team) October 4, 2013
Earnhardt Jr. fans traveled from as far as Houston and Baytown for the one-of-a-kind event and Speedway Children's Charities-Texas was a big winner thanks to their support. Guests had an opportunity to purchase charity raffle tickets for an opportunity for the ultimate upgrade of their seats and join Earnhardt Jr. for dinner at his personal table. Dana Kirby, of Keller; Pam Bailey, of Addison; Shelley Head, of Gainesville; Randy Kleam, of Bridgeport; and Ann Clark and Judie Kochenower, of Houston, were the big winners as they got to rub elbows with Earnhardt Jr. in addition to other VIP perks for the evening.
A live auction brought in more than $23,000 for the SCC-Texas Chapter for only a handful of unique items, including an autographed, race-used Goodyear tire from his No. 88 Chevrolet that ran in April's Sprint Cup race at TMS; pre-race parade laps with him for the upcoming AAA Texas 500; autographed racing shoes and an autographed vintage Earnhardt Jr. 1998 No. 3 ACDelco championship car die-cast.
The most sought-after auction item proved to be the opportunity to serve as an "Honorary Pit Crew Member" for Earnhardt Jr. at the Nov. 3 AAA Texas 500. The experience, courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports, included access to the drivers' meeting, private tour of the No. 88 hauler, pit crew shirt, pre-race photo with Earnhardt Jr. by his car, and watching a portion of the AAA Texas 500 from Earnhardt Jr.'s pit box. With the experience selling for $8,500, Earnhardt Jr. doubled down and offered a second "Honorary Pit Crew Member" experience to the other bidder that lost out and sold the pair for $17,000.
A trip to TMS remains one of Earnhardt Jr.'s favorite stops on the NASCAR schedule considering the historical significance the 1.5-mile speedway has played in his career. Texas Motor Speedway was the site for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series victories, coming in the 2000 DIRECTV500 and 1998 Coca-Cola 300, respectively.
Texas Motor Speedway has served as one of his stronger tracks throughout the course of his 15-year career in the Cup Series. Along with his victory in 2000, he has earned 12 top-10 finishes, which places him in a tie for fourth-most all time among Sprint Cup Series drivers.
"This place has always been special to me having won (my) first races down here in the Nationwide Series and the Cup Series," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Texas is a great race track. We've had great success here. The surface of the race track has aged really well and the drivers really appreciate that. You can use all kinds of different grooves in the corners."
Earnhardt Jr. was asked if TMS would be a strong candidate in the future to host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale for the crowning of the champion.
"I think it would be exciting," Earnhardt Jr. said. "This is a great market here for us. We always seem to get great support from this area. The fans have really latched on to the race track and made it their own. I think it would be awesome if the season ended here. It's tough to pick the perfect track at the end of the year, but Texas is definitely on that list."