NEWTON, N.C. — When officials from North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway reached out to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to see if he would be interested in being a part of the inaugural Jack Ingram Memorial, Earnhardt did not have to think too hard about it.
“When they asked me to come out for this race, it was an easy yes,” Earnhardt told a near capacity crowd Saturday evening shortly before the start of racing at the historic, 0.363-mile asphalt short track.
Earnhardt was on hand to sign autographs and give the command to start engines for the headlining 111-lap Late Model Stock Car race, an event that was ultimately won by one of his JR Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers, Josh Berry.
The event paid tribute to the late Jack Ingram, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, two-time track champion at Hickory Motor Speedway and two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion.
Ingram enjoyed a great deal of his racing success at Hickory Motor Speedway, winning eight times in Xfinity Series competition in addition to countless weekly racing victories.
“I enjoyed going to the racetrack and seeing Jack racing in the Xfinity Series back in the ’80s. He was a very tough competitor and one of the guys you were going to have to beat every week,” Earnhardt recalled. “I got to meet him myself and work with him a little bit when we were making an episode of Lost Speedways.
“It was awesome to spend some time with him and see where his shop was and trying to imagine him having all that success out of that little shop was pretty incredible.”
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Earnhardt is hopeful that competitors and fans who were attendance Saturday at Hickory will take the time to learn a little about Ingram, who won 31 times in Xfinity Series competition and was considered one of the best short track competitors of his era.
“I hope that everybody here, whether they’re competing or they’re a fan, will take a moment to look up Jack and learn a little about who he was and why we’re honoring him,” Earnhardt said. “He’s a great example of what a racer is, a great example for these young drivers.”
Earnhardt is no stranger to Hickory Motor Speedway. His grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, won five track championships in the 1950s at Hickory. His father, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, also raced at Hickory several times.
His JR Motorsports team has scored a number Late Model victories at the track through the years, and he also competed there during his formative years racing Late Models and later in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
While his Late Model team has enjoyed success at Hickory, Earnhardt himself never managed to find his way to Victory Lane at the track as a driver.
“My memories of racing here aren’t very good. I got beat up pretty good here when I came here to race,” Earnhardt admitted. “It’s a tough race track with a lot of talent. Had some rough times in the Xfinity Series, ran a Late Model race here I believe. It was an incredible story but not one of my finest moments.
“I am very, very proud that we’ve been able to come here and win races with our Late Model program. Considering the history that my grandfather Ralph and my dad have here and the races they ran, it’s nice to have some sort of legacy here.”
So would Earnhardt ever consider strapping back into a Late Model to race at Hickory Motor Speedway again?
He didn’t say no.
“I would love to, I really would,” Earnhardt said. “I ran some laps here trying to prepare for some of the Xfinity races we run just to get behind the wheel of a race car and get that feeling and understand the sensations that you go through.
“You never know. I’m still pretty young, and I’ve still got some laps under my belt somewhere. I think before it’s all said and done I’m probably going to get in a Late Model car competitively at some point.”