When the idea of what throwback paint scheme Dale Earnhardt Jr. should incorporate on his No. 88 car, NASCAR's most popular driver knew exactly what he wanted to race Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway.
Earnhardt sought to pay homage to a scheme known affectionately as the "Gray Ghost" and one he refers to as his "favorite all-time" design. The gray and black livery was raced by Buddy Baker to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500, with Baker's average speed of 177.602 mph still the fastest Great America Race in event history.
The "Gray Ghost" was so dark that when drivers complained they couldn't see Baker come up behind them, NASCAR required Baker's team to trim the Oldsmobile with red to make it easier to identify. Earnhardt's throwback will instead utilize orange stripes and with NASCAR no longer permitting chrome numbers, the 88s will be colored gray with orange piping. But otherwise, the two cars are nearly identical.
Earnhardt will also wear a white fire suit resembling the one worn by Baker, who died last August. To further fit the throwback theme, Earnhardt's sponsor, Nationwide, will have the logo it used in 1980 on the hood of the No. 88 car.
"A lot of race cars rarely become icons in this sport where they're known by name, and this is one of them," Earnhardt told reporters Wednesday at Darlington, via The Dale Jr. Download Podcast. "I'm very proud to be able to tip the cap to Buddy and what he did for us -- not only as a driver, but in the broadcast booth. Throughout his career in the sport, he was a huge asset. ... It's awesome to be able to acknowledge him."
Coinciding with its traditional Labor Day weekend date, Darlington is staging a throwback weekend for the second consecutive year where teams are encouraged to race retro paint schemes. Thirty of 43 cars raced classic paint schemes in last year's Southern 500 and track officials expect nearly the entire field to do so in September.
The event was wildly popular among drivers and fans alike and Earnhardt hopes the commemorative theme becomes a staple on the NASCAR calendar.
"(Darlington) is the perfect race track to have our throwback weekend," Earnhardt said. This place has so much history, it's been around for so long and really served our sport perfectly through the years. It's awesome that all the teams and drivers, pit crews and even the fans can get involved and wear their retro gear and celebrate the history of the sport together."