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 Dale Earnhardt "Wrangler Jeans Page"

 

During the first half of his NASCAR Winston Cup career, Earnhardt often returned to his roots by pulling double duty -- competing in selected Busch Series events in addition to a full slate of NASCAR Winston Cup races. In fact, the Intimidator logged 23 victories in NASCAR's number two division between 1982 and 1994 alone.

Both the No. 2 and No. 15 Pontiacs were fielded by the late Robert Gee. Coincidentally, Gee was once Earnhardt's father-in-law and is the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Long-time fans will recall that Gee fielded Busch Series and short track cars for some of NASCAR's biggest stars, including three-time Winston Cup champ Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Geoffrey Bodine.

The elder Earnhardt raced the Coca-Cola car in selected events during the 1980 season -- during the days when the Busch Series was still known as the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division. He campaigned the No. 15 Wrangler mount in 1982. Trivia buffs will note that Earnhardt actually drove the Wrangler ride to victory in the 1982 season-opener at Daytona -- the inaugural event for the Busch Series under its current format as a NASCAR touring series.

 

 

1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Rookie Of The Year

The blue-and-yellow Rod Osterlund-owned Chevrolet Monte Carlo -- actually a 1977 model -- that Earnhardt drove to NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 was likely the most pivotal ride of his career.

"That is the car that effectively launched Dale Earnhardt's Winston Cup career," said said Action's Terry Sipe, who did much of the research and development on the project. "He had driven about nine races over the past four years for several car owners. But the No. 2 Osterlund car was his first full-time ride."

Of course, Earnhardt's story has been well-documented. He was, of course, the son of the late Ralph Earnhardt -- arguably the greatest late model dirt track racer who ever lived.

"I grew up watching my dad race against guys like Ned Jarrett, Bobby Isaac and Tiny Lund," Earnhardt said in a 1994 interview. "By the time I was old enough to start racing myself, I pretty much knew what I had to do and how to do it."

Indeed he did. During the 1970s, the talented young hotshot won races and track championships in wholesale fashion -- excelling on both dirt and asphalt. To many a learned observer, it was obvious early on that Earnhardt was a legend in the making. He made his NASCAR Winston Cup debut in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte, but his big break came in a 300-mile Late Model Sportsman race on the same track in October, 1978.

 

NASCAR Winston Cup car owner Rod Osterlund fielded a pair of Chevrolets in the event -- one for his regular Cup driver, Dave Marcis, the other piloted by Earnhardt. To the delight of the hometown crowd, the Kannapolis, N.C. native ran among the top five all day and nearly won the race.

That performance -- and a fourth-place finish in a Winston Cup race at Atlanta a few weeks later -- landed Earnhardt a full-time assignment with Osterlund Racing when Marcis vacated the No. 2 car at the end of the season.

The Osterlund organization entered a Buick Century and Oldsmobile 442 in a few races on the faster tracks during the 1979 campaign. But the trusty 1977 Monte Carlo was the team's workhorse, possessing the posture and balance to make it extremely effective on tracks where handling was at a premium.

Teamed with veteran crew chief Jake Elder and engine guru Lou LaRosa, Earnhardt garnered 17 top-five finishes during his freshman year -- all but three of them coming in the Monte Carlo. The high point of the season occurred on April Fool's Day when the ramblin' rookie outran Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip to win the Southeastern 500 at the demanding Bristol Motor Speedway.

In those days, first-year drivers winning races in NASCAR's top division was unheard of. In fact, at that time, Earnhardt joined Shorty Rollins, Nelson Stacy, Dick Hutcherson, and Earl Ross as the only drivers to score victories during their first full season.

The freshman class of 1979 was -- to that point?the most impressive on record. Alumni included two-time champion-to-be Terry Labonte, Harry Gant, and Joe Millikan. The battle Rookie of the Year honors wasn't decided until the last race of the season -- with Earnhardt emerging with a 17-point advantage over Millikan.

Earnhardt wound up fourth in the final Winston Cup points standings despite missing four races due to an injury suffered at Pocono. In an interesting side note, legendary David Pearson drove the No. 2 Monte Carlo to victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington while substituting for Earnhardt.

 

For years to come -- and in many ways to this day -- Dale Earnhardt's 1979 rookie campaign became the benchmark for all newcomers.

He continued to race the 1977 Monte Carlo in 1980, adding five more victories to his total while becoming the first -- and only -- man to win the Rookie of the Year award and NASCAR Winston Cup Championship in successive seasons.

1980 No. 2 Coca-Cola Pontiac Ventura

During the first half of his NASCAR Winston Cup career, Earnhardt often returned to his roots by pulling double duty -- competing in selected Busch Series events in addition to a full slate of NASCAR Winston Cup races. In fact, The Intimidator logged 23 victories in NASCAR's number two division between 1982 and 1994 alone.

While Earnhardt raced the '77 Monte Carlo Winston Cup car for the better part of two seasons, he only entered the No. 2 Coca-Cola Pontiac Ventura in only one event -- a 300-mile Late Model Sportsman contest at Charlotte on Oct. 4, 1980.

The car was fielded by the late Robert Gee. Coincidently, Gee was once Earnhardt's father-in-law and was the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gee-prepared cars carried a number of drivers to victory over the years, including Tim Richmond, Geoffrey Bodine, Brett Bodine, Darrell Waltrip, and a host of dirt track drivers.

Earnhardt qualified the red and white Coke colors in third place for this event. He led much of the way and wound up finishing a very close second to Dave Marcis -- who was driving the Buck Stove Pontiac owned by the Jackson Brothers.

"The fact that this car was raced only once and ran so well makes the die-cast replica even more collectible," notes Action's Sipe.

1979 No. 15 Wrangler Pontiac Ventura

Prior to the start of the 1982 season, NASCAR totally revamped the old Late Model Sportsman division, making it a touring series and establishing what is now the Busch Series. Trivia buffs will note that Earnhardt actually drove the No. 15 Wrangler ride to victory in the 1982 season-opener at Daytona -- the inaugural event for the Busch Series under its new format.

Like the Coke machine, the Wrangler Pontiac was prepared by Robert Gee. It carried the No. 15 to reflect Earnhardt's Winston Cup ride at the time -- the No. 15 Bud Moore Thunderbird.

Earnhardt won a hard-fought battle against two of short track racing's best to take the checkered flag at the sweeping 2.5-mile speed plant.

"Jody Ridley finished second in that race," said Sipe. "Sam Ard finished third. It was a very competitive race, which helped launch the new series on a positive note. The fact that the No. 15 Wrangler car won the inaugural Busch Series event makes it a very collectible die-cast from the standpoint of being historically significant."

Incidently, the real No. 15 Wrangler Pontiac Ventura was re-skinned in the GM Goodwrench colors in 1985 as a Chevrolet Nova.

"Dale raced it as a Nova for a year and then sold it," said Steve Crisp, who handles public relations for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. "A guy ended up restoring it, so the Nova is actually still in existence today."

 

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