Just the sight of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet triggers memories of a bleach blonde kid, too shy to make eye contact--but with the whole world in front of him.
Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the heir apparent. But the throne he was to occupy came vacant far too soon. When his father, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, the moment arrived before the scion was ready.
When Junior returned to the beach and won less than five months later, however, the healing process began.
“He was with me tonight--I don’t know how I did it,” Earnhardt said after his emotional win.
Junior’s Dover victory in the first race after the 9/11 terror attacks proved cathartic for the entire sport. And when he scored his first of six Talladega wins one month later, it was all Earnhardt through and through.
In his first seven seasons with Budweiser, Earnhardt claimed 17 of his 26 career Cup victories. As NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver closes this chapter of his career this weekend, the King of Beers acknowledged its accomplishments in the video “One Last Ride.”
“We created this short film to pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his incredible career,” said Ricardo Marques, vice president, Budweiser. “Budweiser has great memories of working with Junior and we will never forever his time spent in the Bud car. Thanks for the unforgettable moments, Junior.”
The success Earnhardt achieved in his early years would set a tone for his success for many seasons to come. And for a legion of fans collectively known as Earnhardt Nation, the competitor known in the Bud days as “Driver 8” has provided some of the fondest of NASCAR memories.
“Budweiser will always have a special place in my heart,” Earnhardt said. “They took a chance on me early on, sponsored my first Cup ride, and paved the way to many great opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“I’m deeply honored in what they’ve done to commemorate my final race. It was unexpected and humbling. It brought back a rush of memories, but more than anything, it reminded me how awesome it was to drive that red No. 8 car.”