CONCORD, N.C. — He’ll keep the car, but the helmet will go to his team owner.
That’s the season-ending scenario for Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver who steps away from full-time competition following this year’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
The race, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 19, will be the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season and the final MENCS race of Earnhardt Jr.’s career.
At each stop along this year’s MENCS trail, tracks have presented the Hendrick Motorsports driver with a “parting gift” of some sort — Friday at CMS, track officials in conjunction with Speedway Children’s Charities announced the establishment of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Concussion Research Fund at Levine Children’s Hospital and are launching the initiative with a $100,000 donation.
As Earnhardt Jr., soon to turn 43 and the son of seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt, eases toward the conclusion of one occupation, what’s happening with some of his own racing “memorabilia” such as the helmet he wore in his final Daytona 500? Or the fire suit he wore for his last start in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
“Well, if you want to know the truth, I only have one helmet and I’ve only used one helmet each year for a long time,” Earnhardt said Friday at CMS. “So, when people come asking for helmets, it is kind of hard to give them away because that is the only helmet I have from that season. And I like to keep it myself and store it away. So, I don’t have a whole lot of helmets floating around.”
Perhaps, he said, he should have taken a page from three-time series champion Tony Stewart, who had a number of helmets produced for his final year behind the wheel in ’16.
“I know that Tony was really smart wearing a different one each week; I probably should have done something like that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The Stilo’s (brand of helmet) I’ve got are $3,000-$5,000 apiece and I ain’t buying them. So, I just wear the same one all year.”
Uniforms are likewise less than abundant, he said, and used ones typically get cut into small pieces and included in trading cards or used in similar ways. Others might be donated for charitable causes.
“We get one or two and Hendrick (Motorsports) gets one or two, we split them,” he said. “And I like to keep one of those. I do give them to … usually I give the uniforms away to drivers for their charity events, Clint (Bowyer) called this week wanting one for his and so, we will give him a uniform out of our allotment.
“So, there is just not a lot of that stuff floating around.”
A special paint scheme will adorn the No. 88 Chevrolet for his final start and there will be a unique scheme for the helmet at Homestead as well. Barring any problems, Earnhardt said, the helmet will go to his boss and he’ll get to keep the car.
“That is our deal,” Earnhardt Jr. said of the agreement struck with team owner Rick Hendrick. “That is the same deal he had with Jeff (Gordon) … that Jeff gave him the helmet and Jeff got the car. And so, I think that is the same deal I’m going to get with Rick.”
Gordon, a four-time champion, retired at the end of the ’15 season.