LAS VEGAS – Former teammates and crew chiefs, officials and close friends, competitors, the newest series champion and even retired NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley came out to honor Dale Earnhardt Jr. here Tuesday evening as part of a charity event on the opening day of NASCAR’s Champion’s Week.
Earnhardt, who retired from full-time competition in NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season, wrapped up his Appreci88ion tour effort by taking part in an intimate, two-hour program with fans. The event was hosted by Nationwide, one of Earnhardt’s longtime sponsors in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The event, combined with other fundraising endeavors throughout the ’17 season, resulted in a donation of $888,000 to the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports for the past decade, was the evening’s first guest and the seven-time series champion admitted that his two biggest accomplishments relating to Earnhardt might have been getting his teammate into cycling and onto Twitter.
“I got this guy in spandex; I’ve got him on social media,” Johnson joked shortly after taking the stage.
Earnhardt joined the social media platform Twitter shortly after winning the 2014 Daytona 500. He currently has more than 2.3 million followers, according to the site.
Former NASCAR President Mike Helton was on hand to recount one post-race “discussion” with Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. after race officiating had been called into question.
Helton’s advice as the pair tried to talk their way out of any repercussions?
“Ya’ll two just need to shut up and listen,” Helton said.
Martin Truex Jr., winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and a former teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc. was on hand, as were members of the Dirty Mo Posse, a group of close friends that formed during the early years of Earnhardt’s Cup career.
Like Earnhardt, Brandon Bernstein was the son of a famous driver — his father Kenny Bernstein was a championship-winning drag racer — and both sons shared Budweiser as a primary sponsor during their careers.
Former crew chiefs Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. were on hand, leading Earnhardt to quip: “Damn, they’re supposed to be in Pensacola at the Snowball Derby!”
Eury Sr. is Earnhardt’s uncle, Eury Jr. his cousin. Each won races while atop the pit box for Earnhardt.
Dale Jarrett, the 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and 1999 series champion, has had a long friendship with Earnhardt, the two becoming close following the death of Earnhardt’s father in 2001.
“When I lost my dad,” Earnhardt said, “Dale came to my rescue. I don’t know how you knew.”
Earnhardt recalled returning to Daytona in July of ’01 and winning the race, then the many media obligations that followed. When he arrived back at his motorcoach to have a drink with some close friends, Jarrett had also hung around rather than return home.
“I remember you said you wouldn’t miss it for the world,’ Earnhardt said.
His father, Jarrett said, “did a lot for me early in my career.”
And when Jarrett won the championship while driving for Robert Yates, Earnhardt supplied a plane to transport team members to the awards dinner in New York.
“I kept asking him for the bill; my accountant wanted the bill so we could pay it and include it in our taxes for that year,” Jarrett said. “They had rented us the plane, carried 34 or 35 people to New York and then back home.
“Finally, around Dec. 27, I got the bill. I opened the envelope and on the bill he had written ‘Congratulations on your championship. No charge.'”
Three-time series champion Tony Stewart recalled a beating, banging XFINITY Series race with Earnhardt Jr. at Pikes Peak that resulted in the two drivers getting called to the NASCAR hauler afterward. “That might have been my first trip to the hauler,” Stewart said.
Earnhardt and Barkley met in 2014 and have been friends ever since.
Barkley’s advice for the retired driver?
“You’ve got to find something to do,” he said. “I play golf and I fish pretty much every day.”
Turning serious, Barkley told Earnhardt: “I admire you; I respect you for what you’ve accomplished as a driver.”
The check presentation, made by Nationwide’s Jim McCoy, wrapped up the program.
The Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund “is really the first charitable work I’ve done with Amy,” Earnhardt said. “And that means the world to me.”
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