Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. recounts time he drove Petty-blue No. ‘3’ Ford

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a Chevrolet driver for life, through and through.

Except for that one time he wasn’t.

On the anniversary of Bobby Hamilton’s death, the former driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet told a story Sunday morning about how the 2004 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion helped him out in a dire situation at the race track one time. It was, as Earnhardt put it, “the only time I ever drove anything besides a Chevrolet in a race.”

The year was 1996, and Earnhardt was entered in a late model race at Fairgrounds Speedway (Nashville). He had the dominant car in practice and was having so much fun driving it, he wanted to make one last run around the 0.596-mile oval despite his crew chief telling him to bring it in.

Lo and behold, a wreck in front of him forced him down the backstretch where he was rear-ended by another car at full speed. Both cars burned to the ground.

While lamenting the loss of the stout entry with his crew chief at the hauler, a voice echoed from behind.

“Do you want to race?”

It was Hamilton.

“Of course I want to race,” said Earnhardt.

“Well, I’ve got a car you can drive.”

Hamilton, a four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner, started to tell Earnhardt about the car … a Ford.

He’d been trying to sell it because his driver at the time, Casey Atwood, wasn’t a fan of it and it needed some adjustments. Thus, it was just sitting on a trailer, ready to be raced.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t drive it, because it’s a Ford.’ But I want to race real bad. So I’m calling my dad trying to see if I can get a hold of him and try to ask him if I can drive this Ford. It’s a Petty blue, because Bobby at the time I think must have been driving for Richard in the Cup Series and it had No. 43 on it.

“I couldn’t get a hold of dad, but I got a hold of dad’s general manager. … He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and drive it. Just don’t talk about it and try not to make too big of a deal about it.’ ”

Earnhardt said he and his team then took duct tape and covered up the ‘4’, leaving just the ‘3’ uncovered.

Around 150 laps into the race, Junior was stomping the field and had every driver but one a lap down. He appeared set to cruise to a win, until the transmission blew with 30 laps to go.

Still, given how fast it was — and perhaps the fact that the son of a seven-time champion wheeled a Ford for the first and only time — Hamilton sold the car on pit road after the race for “quite a bit of money.”

Hear Junior tell the whole story below in his Periscope.