Dale Earnhardt Jr. will continue his annual trend of running a one-off in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for 2021. On Tuesday, JR Motorsports announced their owner will drive the #8 Chevrolet Camaro in the Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway on 11 September.
As the race is on the twenty-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, longtime JRM sponsor Unilever will provide a special paint scheme for the #8 honouring the victims. Branded as “United for America”, the livery features four spotlights on the hood representing the four locations attacked: the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia, and United Airlines Flight 93‘s crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The design takes inspiration from the Tribute in Light, a series of twin light beams (representing the towers) that are projected at the nearby Battery Parking Garage.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since that terrible day,” Earnhardt commented. “The spirit of unity and togetherness our country felt on September 11 is just as relevant now as it was then. I’m honoured to be driving this car, and championing Unilever’s United for America program.”
The attacks have long revertebrated in American society, predominantly with the political ramifications it created like the War on Terror. Gestures of patriotism and remembrance in sports since then are far from uncommon. For example, the 2001 MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover, the first Cup Series race since the attacks, featured American-themed cars and pre-race tributes; Earnhardt won and celebrated by performing a victory lap with the American flag. Part-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team FDNY Racing, whose crew consists of volunteers from the New York Fire and Police Departments, donates its race earnings to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows and Childrens Fund.
With nine months until the Go Bowling 250, Earnhardt’s entry is the only confirmed 9/11 commemorative act for the weekend so far but it is a certainty that others will also take part. The 2011 Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond, which was held the day before the tenth anniversary, also saw a patriotic pre-race ceremony and special car designs. Outside of the racing world, the United States notably intends to complete its withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the anniversary while the Navy/Air Force college football game was rescheduled to 11 September.
“On the twentieth anniversary of a day we will never forget, we are grateful to welcome Dale Earnhardt Jr. back to Richmond Raceway to recognize 9/11 victims and first responders,” said Richmond track president Dennis Bickmeier. “As the Xfinity Series and Cup Series compete on one day in Richmond, we will unite and stand together to remember that fateful day.”
A two-time Xfinity Series champion who continued sporadic competition there upon retiring from Cup racing after 2017, Earnhardt has twenty-four career wins in the second tier. Four have come at Richmond, with the most recent in 2016. His last Richmond start was a fourth-place run in 2018 (his first race since retirement), while his one-off in 2020 saw him finish fifth at Homestead. He also has three Cup wins at the Virginia track in 2000, 2004, and 2006.
Earnhardt will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2022 (originally 2021 prior to its postponement due to COVID-19). He joins Class of 2015 member Bill Elliott as the only two Hall of Famers to run a NASCAR national series race after being voted in.