Dale Jr. Blog

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares for his final weekend behind the wheel at The Last Great Colosseum, Bristol Motor Speedway unveiled its major tributes to Little E.

Earnhardt Jr.'s name will live on in Bristol lore with the announcements of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Scholarship and the It's Bristol, Baby! sign, located in the Fan Zone.

Drawing inspiration from his social media profile that mentions his former career as an automotive service mechanic, Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday honored Earnhardt by announcing it was starting a scholarship in his name. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. Scholarship will be a $2,088 annual award that goes to a high school student from Sullivan County, Tennessee who wants to pursue a career in the automotive industry.

Students must be graduating seniors who live in Sullivan County and attend high school in Sullivan County Schools, Kingsport City Schools or Bristol Tennessee City Schools. Students must have completed at least two automotive technology or similar courses during high school.

Later in the day, the track also dedicated an interactive monument paying homage to the, It's Bristol, Baby! slogan that Earnhardt first uttered after his victory on Aug. 28, 2004. The sign, which is located in the Fan Zone near the iconic Bristol Tower, allows fans an opportunity to take part in BMS' tributes to Junior. The Speedway invites fans to share their social content featuring the sign on Bristol's social media channels (www.Facebook.com/BristolMotorSpeedway, www.Twitter.com/BMSupdates, www.Instagram.com/BMSupdates and Snapchat: BMSupdates) and utilizing #ItsBristolBaby.  

Earnhardt Jr. will compete in both the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race tomorrow night and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Saturday evening before moving to the NBC broadcast booth next year. The doubleheader is fitting end to Earnhardt Jr.'s career at The Last Great Colosseum, where he has seen his fair share of memorable moments.

"It's been an incredible racetrack and it has done so much for NASCAR over the years to promote the sport and give folks a great place to come enjoy a race," said Earnhardt Jr., who is best remembered in Bristol lore for his 2004 sweep. "Everything that happens around the racetrack, outside the racetrack, the atmosphere during race weekends is really great. They do an awesome job. I hope to keep coming back. It's definitely still my favorite stop. I'll be lucky I guess, is a way to put it, to be able to call this race next year and be a part of the broadcast team."

As the calendar reaches the second half of August, it can only mean one thing: it's once again time for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week.

Guests from all 50 states will descend upon East Tennessee this coming week to celebrate the end of summer and to witness some of the best racing on the planet. The electric atmosphere under the lights of The Last Great Colosseum is second to none and that will be on display once again.

"This is always one of my favorite times of the year," said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. "We get to see our friends from all over the United States, the beautiful starry Appalachian skies on a warm August night and the flash of the cameras in the grandstands as 40 race cars come to life at the start of the green flag. There's nothing quite like the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week."

To view a schedule of all events and activities during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week, check out the BMS Fan Schedule at http://www.bristolmotorspeedway.com/fans/fan-schedule/.
Highlights of the race week include:

Fitzgerald Peterbilt Transporter Parade: Watch on Thursday, Aug. 16 as the colorful haulers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series make their way from The Pinnacle to Bristol Motor Speedway down Hwy 11 E/Volunteer Parkway through the city of Bristol. Celebrating its 20th year, the Fitzgerald Peterbilt Transporter Parade is a spectacle complete with fireworks as thousands of fans line up to see these big rigs make their way towards The World's Fastest-Half Mile. Haulers are scheduled to depart The Pinnacle at 9 p.m. and arrive at the Speedway around 9:30 p.m.

Food City Race Night: One of the longest-running (Food City celebrates its 30th year of sponsoring the event) and most popular fan fests on the circuit, Food City Race Night takes place on Thursday, Aug. 17 from 1-9 p.m. in downtown Bristol. The event will feature driver appearances, games, food/craft vendors and more. Visit www.FoodCity.com/racing for more information.

Musical Entertainment: Race fans will be in for a treat as the likes of Cody Jinks and The Steel Woods take to the stage. Jinks brings his southern rock and outlaw country sound to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race pre-race concert while The Steel Woods will rock out with the fans on the Trackside Live stage in the Fan Zone following the conclusion of the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Friday night.

Trackside Live/BMS Stage: A fan favorite has returned to the Fan Zone. The Trackside Live stage is a go-to spot for driver appearances, fun family-friendly games and concerts. NASCAR.com will also broadcast a live 1 hour show on the stage on both Friday and Saturday from 4-5 p.m.

Souvenir Haulers: Back by popular demand and located in the Fan Zone, the souvenir haulers are the best place to grab collectibles and the latest gear from the top drivers in NASCAR.

Young Guns Autograph Sessions: On Wednesday, Aug. 16 get your favorite up-and-coming drivers autograph from competitors in the UNOH 200 and Bush's Beans 150. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series autograph session is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will feature drivers Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala among others. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour session is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Both autograph sessions will take place inside Gate 14 at the Darrell Waltrip A-B Mezzanine.

Racing Action: Some of the best drivers in the world hit the high banks at one of the most demanding circuits in racing with action in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race), NASCAR XFINITY Series (25th anniversary of the Food City 300), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (UNOH 200) and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Bush's Beans 150).

Dale Earnhardt Jr: The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week will also be the last chance for fans to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. race around the concrete high banks of Bristol. Guests will be in for a treat though as Junior pulls the doubleheader: racing in both the NXS and MENCS events. During the week, guests will have numerous opportunities to help Bristol honor Earnhardt Jr including:

  • Dale Jr. Moments Museum: Located in the Fan Zone, this museum showcases some of the best Earnhardt Jr. memories from Bristol, including his 2004 Sweep. The museum will include two Junior show cars (No. 8 and No. 88), a photo gallery, a "Thank You Dale Jr" autograph wall, photo recreation station and LED screens highlighting his career moments. The museum will be open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will also features special Q&A's with Dale's peers including former crew chief and cousin Tony Eury Jr.
  • A special wrapped car will be located outside the museum where fans can write their favorite memories. The car will then be donated to Junior and his car graveyard
  • A limited amount of Dale Jr. collector cards highlighting his top six Bristol moments will be handed out at the gates on Saturday, Aug. 19.
  • During pre-race, those with seats on the frontstretch will be able to take part in a card stunt saluting the driver of the No. 88 Chevy. All guests will also be encouraged to stand up and salute Junior on Lap 88 to show their #Appreci88ion.
  • Junior fans will want to pick up a copy of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race commemorative program which will contain numerous features on Dale and a special collector's cover designed by famed NASCAR artist Sam Bass.
  • Earnhardt Jr. will make a special guest appearance at the Mountain Dew display at 4 p.m. in the Midway on Saturday, Aug. 19


Tickets for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race are still available, starting at just $79. A two-day weekend package is also available, beginning at just $109. Visit BristolTix.com or call (855) 580-5525.

For more than 20 years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a fixture at Bristol Motor Speedway, both as a kid in Victory Lane with his dad and as a driver taming the all-concrete high banks. As he prepares for his final week behind the wheel at The Last Great Colosseum, both the Speedway and guests from all around the world will be there to salute his BMS legacy.  

During the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week, guests will have numerous opportunities to help Bristol honor Earnhardt Jr., including visiting the Dale Jr. Moments Museum, accumulating Junior collectable items, saluting Little E on Lap 88, picking up a copy of the official program and much more.

"The Earnhardt name is synonymous with Bristol," said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. "Whether it's celebrating in Victory Lane with his pops, watching his father's famous bump-n-run on Terry Labonte in 1999 or celebrating his 2004 historic sweep, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been an important part of history here. It's only fitting that we join together with our guests to celebrate his accomplishments."

The flagship attraction surrounding Earnhardt Jr.'s final Bristol race weekend will be the Dale Jr. Moments Museum. Located in the Fan Zone, this exhibit will showcase his signature BMS moments through interactive displays. Guests will be able to relive the past with Earnhardt Jr.'s iconic No. 8 show car and add themselves via photo station to his famous broom photo in Victory Lane when he swept the 2004 August races. The Dale Jr. Moments Museum will also house other Junior memorabilia, a "Thank You Jr." wall where fans can write and share their favorite race memories, a photo gallery journey recalling Earnhardt Jr.'s career and LED screens featuring his greatest moments at Bristol.

The backside of the display will feature more current moments along with a Nationwide No. 88 Chevy show car. In addition, some of the biggest names in Earnhardt Jr.'s racing career will visit the Dale Jr. Moments Museum to share their experiences, including former crew chief, cousin and friend Tony Eury Jr., who will make an appearance on Saturday between Noon and 2 p.m. The museum will be open on Friday, Aug. 18 and Saturday, Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Junior fans will also want to check out the specially-wrapped race car that will be located outside the entrance of the Dale Jr. Moments Museum. The car will feature a distinct wrap celebrating Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour. Guests will be encouraged to sign the car during the weekend. Following the race, the car will be donated to Earnhardt Jr.'s car graveyard at his property in North Carolina.

Speedway guests will see special homages to Earnhardt Jr. throughout property. On Saturday, a select number of guests who enter the gates will receive a special collector's card that will highlight six moments from his Bristol career. All guests in the grandstands will be asked to stand at Lap 88 and salute the driver of the No. 88 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. Those who have tickets on the frontstretch will also be able to take part in a card stunt salute to Junior during pre-race.

One collector's item that all Earnhardt Jr. fans will want to obtain is the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race commemorative program. The program, which is adorned with a special edition tribute cover designed by iconic NASCAR artist Sam Bass, contains numerous feature stories about Junior authored by some of NASCAR's most prominent journalists. The cover design pays tribute to the Earnhardt legacy and features Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Axalta Ducks Unlimited camo scheme on-track, as the iconic midnight black No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., watches from above. Official commemorative programs are $10 and can be picked up at Speedway World at the O. Bruton Smith Building or at any official BMS souvenir stands located around Speedway property.

Earnhardt Jr. will make a special appearance at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Mountain Dew display, located in the Midway outside the frontstretch.

No matter how one chooses to celebrate Earnhardt Jr.'s final Bristol race weekend, guests are encouraged to post their photos to Bristol Motor Speedway's social accounts (www.Facebook.com/BristolMotorSpeedway and www.Twitter.com/BMSupdates) using the hashtag #Appreci88ion and #ItsBristolBaby.

Guests will have numerous opportunities to see Earnhardt Jr. on-track as he competes in both the 25th anniversary of the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Tickets to see both races start at just $109 and kids 12-and-under are only $10 for the combo ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket.  Visit www.BristolTix.com or call 423-BRISTOL to purchase tickets today. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store until Tuesday, Aug. 15.

Oh, if only those walls surrounding the half-mile all-concrete high banks at Bristol Motor Speedway could talk. What a story they could tell.

There have been many dramatic finishes, intense skirmishes, dominating performances and epic victory celebrations in more than six decades of racing at the Last Great Colosseum. 

Perhaps none was more emotion-filled than the victory celebration that happened on August 28, 2004.

That was the night that Dale Earnhardt Jr., the son of the legendary Intimidator who was a nine-time BMS winner, finally broke through to grab his first Cup Series checkered flag at the World's Fastest Half-Mile.

The moment proved extra special because one night earlier Earnhardt Jr. had won the XFINITY Series event, the Food City 250. No driver in Bristol's history, dating back to 1961, had ever won both races in a single weekend.

Today, that legendary feat is known around these parts simply as The Sweep.

The moment was stamped in time by a jubilant Earnhardt, who climbed out of his red No. 8 Chevy in BMS Victory Lane, covered in sweat from the hot August night, and when NBC reporter Bill Weber asked the young driver why the win was so special, he let out a roar that sent sound waves blasting across the Tennessee hills all the way to Nashville and back.

"It's Bristol, baby!" Earnhardt exclaimed.

And NASCAR nation went wild.

"I never thought I would win a Busch race and a Cup race in the same weekend at Bristol," Earnhardt said. "Good lord."

"I'm just really, really, really, glad that I won tonight, because this is like the Daytona 500," Earnhardt continued. "This is like winning at Charlotte, or like winning in Atlanta. These are the tracks, the historic tracks that have been around for years that are at the top of my list (of places) I want to win."

Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won at Bristol since that incredible evening.

After announcing his retirement from full-time competition in April, Earnhardt Jr. is determined to duplicate his 2004 BMS performance one final time when he runs a doubleheader during the Food City 300 XFINITY Series race on Friday night, Aug. 18 and the 500-lap Monster Energy Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Saturday, Aug. 19.

He will be driving his purple and blue Goody's Mixed Fruit Blast No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevy in the Food City 300 and a special-edition black and camouflage No. 88 Axalta Chevy in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

"My last run at Bristol…I have a lot of fond memories there," Earnhardt Jr. said recently. "I'm glad I've got a trophy from that race track and that will be one of the tracks that I miss running at more than some others for sure."

Earnhardt Jr. will be joined on the track by many more of NASCAR's elite drivers, including defending Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, seven-time Monster Energy Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, young guns Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, along with veteran drivers Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

In addition to the great racing, there are so many cool options to make a complete weekend of family fun, including great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, lots of party zones like the Bristol Lawn Party, premium VIP experiences like the Chairman's Experience, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.  

And for families who want to bring the entire clan, Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for kids to have an awesome experience. Kids' tickets (12 and under) are free and adult tickets are $30 for the Wednesday, Aug. 16 UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race and the Bush's Beans 150 Whelen Modified Series race. Friday night's (Aug. 18) Pinty's Qualifying and Food City 300 XFINITY Series event features adult tickets starting at $35 and free kids tickets. On Saturday night (Aug. 19), kids' tickets are only $10 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, while adult tickets start at $69. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office and www.BristolTix.com are the only two authorized locations that can produce the free kids' tickets.

To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.

The all-concrete high-banked half-mile oval that sits inside one of the most impressive and versatile sports stadiums on the planet, nestled between the rolling hills and mountains of Northeast Tennessee, really is a one-of-a-kind place.

Many have come to call it The Last Great Colosseum. And that's for good reason.

NASCAR's gladiators of speed have been battling it out at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway two times a year since 1961. Many of stock car racing's biggest legends have been created there. Some of the most fabled finishes in the sport's history have occurred inside that arena. Some drivers say they get chills just walking into the place, knowing its star-studded backstory.

Fans, the traveling press corps and thousands of social media pundits all proclaimed the recent Food City 500 one of the best races in recent memory. It had it all: plenty of side-by-side action in the lower groove, drivers speeding around the high groove, lots of passing and drivers mixing it up, some bumping and grinding and even a bit of beating and banging.

As Dale Earnhardt, Jr. summed it up so eloquently after sweeping both races here in August 2004, "It's Bristol, baby!"

Fans can expect to be entertained even more at the upcoming Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Aug. 16-19. It's become a hard-core Bucket List destination for many. Unofficially, it's been referred to as one of NASCAR's majors. Certainly, fans can expect to enjoy an amazing weekend of racing, and who knows what else might happen when the lights are turned on.

And that's not just because Earnhardt Jr., who days after the Food City 500 stunned the motorsports world by announcing this season will be his last, will be making his final runs around The World's Fastest Half-Mile at the controls of his famed No. 88 Axalta Chevy.

No doubt, celebrating Dale Jr.'s Bristol legacy will be a huge part of the race weekend, and something that no devoted fan will want to miss, but there will be so much more. The tight racing that fans crave and have come to expect will also be in the spotlight, led by a hungry batch of drivers longing to acquire one of the much sought-after BMS winner's Gladius swords.

Five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch says for a novice fan, Bristol provides the most complete NASCAR 101 experience around. And for educated fans, they already know Bristol is the best place to watch a race.

"There's no other track this size, that has this much banking, that holds this many people," Busch said. "I always tell people if you've never been to a NASCAR race, you don't start at the Daytona 500. You don't start at Indianapolis. Charlotte is a great place to come see the heritage of our sport, but if you really want to see the true short track of how our sport found its way up, watching guys like Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte grind it out for wins and guys like Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough, they all came to Bristol, because if you conquered Bristol it was something special."

The thing that makes Bristol so enjoyable for the drivers is the challenge of taming the high banks at a tremendous rate of speed. Enduring 500 laps around the Colosseum, both from a stamina standpoint as well as the ability to keep a racecar intact, has proven over the years to be the ultimate NASCAR survival test.

"Bristol is a physical place," said 7-time Monster Energy Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson, who won the Food City 500. "You don't have a lot of time down the straightaways to think about things. You very much get into a rhythm of just running. I feel like you're just wide open all the time, whereas I feel like at Talladega there are certain portions in the race where things might calm down for a little while. Here at Bristol, I feel like you don't really have much of a break and it's just all the time wide open. I think that keeps everybody on their toes and keeps the intensity up. I think that just makes the racing that much more entertaining."

Clint Bowyer, who finished second in April's Food City 500, said he was completely exhausted post-race, yet utterly thrilled with what he had just experienced at the same time.

"I know that everybody wants to see the Bristol of old and us beating and banging and moving cars," Bowyer said in the media center after following Johnson across the finish line. "I'm telling you, the effort that you put into driving the car, you can't drive them any harder than that. Literally it's a qualifying lap almost every single time. I think (Bristol) has done a great job of creating that environment. It really is an ever-changing racetrack.

"You'll start on the bottom, get up there and find something on the outside, and hell, by the end of the run you might be right back on the bottom and finding better grip and better speed down there. It's a ton of fun to be able to race like that, and it's extremely challenging. I've been doing this a long time and that's about as hard as I've ever drove in my life."

Johnson says the track takes no prisoners and it simply doesn't allow for drivers to be able to tip-toe around the place. That is what keeps the fans at the edge of their seats for 500 laps.

"You're on the razor's edge around this track," Johnson said. "It's really an interesting track. If you lay off and don't drive the car as hard as you need to, the vertical and lateral forces aren't in the car to make it turn, so your handling completely changes if you try to soft foot it around here or soft pedal it. You've got to stay committed and run the heck out of the car."

And the fun at Bristol Motor Speedway isn't contained simply to the action taking place on the track. It's everywhere. There's so many fun options for the entire family, including some state-of-the-art Kids Zones, great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, and lots of Party Zones, premium VIP experiences, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.

"I always look forward to coming to Bristol with the atmosphere, the way the track is designed, the way the intimate setting is so cool for the fans, the fact that there's no garage area here; we work out on pit road," Busch said. "There are so many little small things that are fun and unique about Bristol."

The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week kicks off with the Bush's Beans 150 NASCAR Whelen Modified Series Race and the UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The racing action continues on Friday night, Aug. 18 with the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race 500 lap event concludes the weekend of racing on Saturday evening, Aug. 19.  

Affordable tickets are available for the Camping World Truck Series race, the XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. Kids (12 and under) are free with a paid adult for those two days of racing. Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race tickets for adults start at $69, while kids' tickets for Saturday night are only $10. To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s many childhood visits to Bristol Motor Speedway as a kid roaming the pits with his pals have been well-documented. The first time he climbed behind the wheel of a race car and got to tackle the high banks of the Last Great Colosseum in a major NASCAR race may not be quite as well known to his many legion of fans.

In 1997, Earnhardt Jr. made his first career start at Bristol Motor Speedway driving a black No. 7 Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by Bristol businessman Ed Whitaker with sponsorship from Church Brothers.

Whitaker's famed No. 7 had been driven by many of NASCAR's greats over the years including Tim Richmond, Harry Gant, Morgan Shepherd, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, to note a few of the long list of all-star names. Dale Earnhardt Sr. also took a spin in one of Whitaker's machines in a Bristol Grand National race in 1982, the Intimidator's only start for the Tri-Cities area team owner.

From 1996-1997, Earnhardt Jr. had been proving himself at many of the toughest short tracks around the mid-Atlantic region in Late Model Stock Car competition. He had competed in a few Busch Series (now known as the XFINITY Series) events, but until that weekend, he had only dreamed of racing at The World's Fastest Half-Mile.

Whitaker, with his keen eye for driving talent, gladly provided that opportunity.

"That was a big deal for me," Earnhardt Jr. has said. "Mr. Whitaker was a real good man, and he made sure he did things right. It was an honor for me to drive his race car."

Earnhardt Jr. made the most of his opportunity. He qualified second for the Food City 250, which meant a start on the front row alongside pole-sitter Randy LaJoie. Earnhardt Jr. powered to the front of the field early in the race and the rookie actually led 22 laps of the event.

He eventually fell back and finished 22nd, but brought the car home in one piece, completing all but a couple laps of the event. A few of the other notable drivers who finished behind him that night included Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip and Elliott Sadler.

Whitaker, who passed away at age 76 in 2014, fielded race cars for 247 events in the XFINITY Series. In that span, he collected 28 victories, including three at Bristol. Shepherd claimed two Bristol victories for Whitaker (1983 and 1986) and Gant claimed one, in 1992.

"Everybody wanted to drive one of Ed's cars," highly-regarded crew chief Chris Carrier, also a Tri-Cities native, has said. "His reputation was, if I go drive one of Ed's cars, I'm going to run good."

Of course Earnhardt Jr. used that experience as the momentum to compete in 34 Cup and 11 Xfinity starts at Bristol in his stellar career. He claimed Bristol victories in both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series, famously sweeping both events at the 2004 Night Race when he coined the term, "It's Bristol, baby!" in Victory Lane.

After announcing earlier this season that 2017 would be his last full-time driving season, Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to make his 12th XFINITY start in the Food City 300 and his 35th, and final, Cup start during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Aug. 18-19. He will drive his purple and blue Goody's Mixed Fruit Blast No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevy in Friday night's XFINITY Series race and his black and camouflage Axalta No. 88 in the Monster Energy Cup Series event on Saturday night.

Earnhardt Jr. said recently that he is looking forward to bringing things full circle at Bristol Motor Speedway in a few weeks.

"My last run at Bristol, I think we've got a special paint scheme for that I'm kinda excited about," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I have a lot of fond memories there. I'm glad I've got a trophy from that race track and that will be one of the tracks that I miss running at more than some others for sure. I love short track racing. It's probably what I love the best about this sport and it's one of the few that we get to run on. It's such a unique race track, shape, banking and all that. There is nothing that compares to it. I will always feel special about it."

Earnhardt Jr. will be joined on the track by many more of NASCAR's elite drivers, including defending Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, seven-time Monster Energy Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, young guns Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, along with veteran drivers Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

In addition to the great racing, there are so many cool options to make a complete weekend of family fun, including great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, lots of party zones like the Bristol Lawn Party, premium VIP experiences like the Chairman's Experience, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.  

And for families who want to bring the entire clan, Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for kids to have an awesome experience. Kids' tickets (12 and under) are free and adult tickets are $30 for the Wednesday, Aug. 16 UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race and the Bush's Beans 150 Whelen Modified Series race. Friday night's (Aug. 18) Pinty's Qualifying and Food City 300 XFINITY Series event features adult tickets starting at $35 and free kids tickets. On Saturday night (Aug. 19), kids' tickets are only $10 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, while adult tickets start at $69. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office and www.BristolTix.com are the only two authorized locations that can produce the free kids' tickets.

To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.

Long before he famously exclaimed "It's Bristol, baby!" after sweeping the August 2004 Cup and Xfinity races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a young fella running around the pits at Bristol. Even at that such a young age, Jr. was a self-confessed, die-hard devotee of Northeast Tennessee's famed high-banked half-mile oval.

He was exposed to the extreme door-handle to door-handle racing and magical setting of The Last Great Colosseum as a youngster while watching his famous father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., wage epic battles with rivals like Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte, among others, inside Bristol's bullring.

And when he wasn't watching the thrilling racing, he explored the garage area, played with friends and met many of his stock car racing heroes in the pits. Those carefree Thunder Valley days continue to be vivid memories for Earnhardt Jr., who is set to make his final Bristol Cup start in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

"I always loved going there as a kid," Earnhardt Jr. has said. "It's one of the more exciting racetracks to be at as a fan. I used to go watch my father race (and) being able to run around the pits and garage area all weekend long. There's not a bad seat in the house at Bristol."

These days, not much has changed. Bristol Motor Speedway remains the perfect place for kids to take in all the fun that NASCAR has to offer.

And for families who want to bring the entire clan for a weekend of fun, Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for kids to have an awesome experience. Kids' tickets are free for the Wednesday, Aug. 16 UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race and the Bush's Beans 150 Whelen Modified Series race, as well as Friday night's (Aug. 18) Food City 300 XFINITY Series event. On Saturday night (Aug. 19), kids' tickets are only $10 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

Once kids are inside the stadium, there are plenty of fun things for them to do. There are two highly interactive Kids Zones located under the grandstands in turns one and four, with lots of activities, including coloring stations, inflatables, and interactive games. There are also specially-designed kids' menus available at several concession stands, featuring PB&J, hot dogs, fruit cups and veggie sticks, among other items. Heck, kids might even run into Bristol's rambunctious brother and sister raccoon mascots, Bump and Run, who are known to roam around the property and make appearances at the Kids Zones.

As a kid attending races at Bristol, Earnhardt Jr. says he always preferred the August event, where sparks would fly and drivers' tempers would flare under the bright summer lights.

"My favorite race was the Bristol night race," Earnhardt Jr. has said. "We would park our family vans on the grass in the corners and climb up on the back and watch the race. We were literally 20, 30 yards from the cars, and they might spin and wreck and slide down onto the apron and you could feel the heat and smell the smoke. It was such a great experience. You were up on the vans with your friends pointing at this, pointing at that. There's action all the time."

Not surprisingly, he always cheered on his seven-time champion father, Dale Sr., who proved to be a master of Bristol's high banks, winning here nine times. Dale Jr. says his most memorable race during his childhood was his dad's 1985 victory when he had to literally strong-arm his Richard Childress-owned Wrangler Chevy to the checkered flag.

"He ran 440 of the 500 laps with no power steering," said Earnhardt Jr., who recalled the trophy presented to his father during the winner's circle ceremony was taller than he was. "He was wore slam out at the end of that race. He had a lot of moments in his career where he lived up to his reputation as an intimidator, a tough guy. That was one of the races where he checked that box pretty good."

And the fun at Bristol Motor Speedway isn't just for kids. In addition to the great racing action on the track, led by Earnhardt Jr., defending winner Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch, there's so many cool options for the entire family, including great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, lots of Party Zones, premium VIP experiences, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.

The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week kicks off with the Bush's Beans 150 NASCAR Whelen Modified Series Race and the UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The racing action continues on Friday night, Aug. 18 with the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race 500-lap event concludes the weekend of racing on Saturday evening, Aug. 19.  

Affordable tickets are available for the Camping World Truck Series race (starting at $30), the XFINITY Series race (starting at $35) and Pinty's Qualifying. Kids (12 and under) are free with a paid adult for Wednesday and Friday's racing action. Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race tickets for adults start at $69, while kids' tickets for Saturday night are only $10. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office and www.BristolTix.com are the only two authorized locations that can produce the free kids' tickets.

To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.

By Ben White

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, considers Bristol Motor Speedway to be his all-time favorite short track in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.

There is good reason the 42-year old native of Kannapolis, N.C. beams from ear to ear when the famed .533-mile high banked short track comes to mind. His father, seven-time Cup series champion Dale Earnhardt, collected eight wins on the Tennessee oval, giving young Dale plenty of trophies to marvel over during his formative years.

WATCH DALE JR. BATTLE BACK FOR 2ND PLACE IN THE 2016 FOOD CITY 500

Earnhardt Jr. began his own Cup career in 1999 and set his sights on getting a BMS trophy or two of his own. Through the April 24th Food City 500, the future NASCAR Hall of Famer has 26-career Cup victories to his credit, including the XFINITY Series and Cup Series events in August of 2004.

Now with the 2017 season designated as his last as a Cup series driver, he has his sights set on adding another Cup victory to the list. Nothing would make him happier than for one of many wins to come in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race scheduled for August 19, 2017.

Earnhardt's legion of loyal fans would cherish the sight of their beloved driver rolling into victory lane one last time in his final Cup Series start on the storied concrete oval.

"We're excited about how good our cars are," Earnhardt Jr. said on the Hendrick Motorsports website. "(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) is doing an awesome job, and so is the whole team. They are putting some great cars on the racetrack. I love racing at Bristol. I always look forward to racing there. There's just no other track like it."

In the track known affectionately as The Last Great Colosseum, Earnhardt Jr. agrees every seat in the house offers the best view of the most exciting battles for track position anywhere on the 36-race Cup series circuit.

So where does Bristol Motor Speedway rank among his favorite places to race or watch a race?

"Bristol fights for that top spot," Earnhardt Jr. said in an interview with Athlon Sports in 2015. "I always loved going there as a kid. It's one of the more exciting racetracks to be at as a fan. I used to go watch my father race (and) being able to run around the pits and garage area all weekend long. When they were preparing to race and then sit down and watch the race, there's not a bad seat in the house at Bristol. And it's as much fun to race there as it was to see. It's very special to me and my heart. It's a tough race to win, but it's a great feeling when you do."

All told, Earnhardt Jr. enjoys a record of 15 top-fives, 26 top-fives and two poles in 45 starts at BMS.  Thirteen years ago while driving the memorable red and black No. 8 Chevrolets for Dale Earnhardt Inc., he put on a masterful display of talent and patience with every lap completed before winning the 250-lap XFINITY Series (then Busch Series) event on Aug. 27, 2004. The following night, he did it again, winning the 500-lap Cup series race by besting second-place Ryan Newman, then a driver for Team Penske.

When asked what he loved about the track in victory lane that night, Earnhardt Jr. coined the phrase; "It's Bristol, Baby!"  Fans still describe it the same way today.

"When we swept in '04, that was a great, great weekend to be able to win the Nationwide (XFINITY) race and the Cup race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We lapped all the way up to sixth place in the Cup race. We had this long, uncharacteristic green-flag run where we had to pit under green. We ended up lapping a lot of cars. Our car was just the class of the field that night."

When Cup series teams get to Bristol Motor Speedway to race under the lights, drivers will be looking to win their way into NASCAR's 10-race playoff system set to begin Sept. 17 at Chicago. Earnhardt Jr. intends to use his favorite short track as a springboard toward a final shot at a Cup series title. 

"I can say right now, (the goal for 2017 is) winning races," Earnhardt said at his retirement announcement April 25th.  "We feel very confident that's not out of the question. Greg (Ives) and I have had more communication this year than ever. We started this offseason sort of admitting to each other that we both could put more into this relationship.  And for us to be successful or more successful, we've both kind of got to dig in. 

"Obviously, if we win a few races, we make the playoffs and get a chance to run for the championship. One thing leads to another."

A Cup series victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race would certainly be the perfect way for Earnhardt Jr. to go out in style. Plenty of fans will be on hand to experience what they hope will be his final win at the track.

Be sure to reserve your seat now for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race so you can witness Earnhardt Jr.'s last race at The World's Fastest Half-Mile by calling 423-BRISTOL or visiting BristolTix.com. 

Ben White has covered NASCAR for the Lexington N.C. Dispatch for 34 years. He has also written for a variety of motorsports publications and authored many books about NASCAR.   

Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell participated in a media interview session this afternoon to discuss his thoughts regarding today's announcement by NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

What were your initial thoughts when you heard that Dale Jr. had made the decision to retire?

"I was a bit surprised at the timing, but I'm excited for him and glad he’s able to do this on his terms as he has wanted to do. His family is such a part of this sport. After what he struggled with last year you want him to be able to call the shots on his terms."

What does he mean to this track? His sweep weekend here is one of the most memorable moments here. He’s the most popular driver, so he’s a big part of the show.

"He is and his father was and prior to that Darrell Waltrip was and Rusty Wallace. He’s in great company. They’ve all had great impacts on our sport and will continue to. If you look back on those other names, like Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace, they continue to make an impact on our sport. Jeff Gordon is doing the same thing now. I think you’ll see Dale Earnhardt Jr. do the same thing. He’s going to be around in the sport."

Do you know if this announcement has already increased ticket demand for the August race?

“There’s certainly a buzz around. If I am a race fan I want to see him on the high banks that one last time. He hinted in his press conference about possibly running some Xfinity races in the future, which will be exciting too. But you’re going to want to see him in these last few Cup races he has for the remainder of the season. We hope he is able to turn this season around and finish on a strong note. I have a feeling this has been weighing on him for a while. It should free him up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come alive in the last part of the season.”

With him stepping out of the car, we’ve seen other popular drivers also step out of the car like Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart recently. What impact do you feel his retirement will have on the sport?

“It is interesting timing, but I think all sports go through these phases. If it’s a Michael Jordan or any of those others when you go around sports and kind of name the greats. I have never seen in my history with this sport, about 25 years or so, the crop of young talented drivers that we have coming up. There is so much excitement and enthusiasm and you can go down the list with Kyle Larson, Ryan Blayney and Chase Elliott and on and on. I am excited to see how those guys are going to come along. I am really excited to hear Dale reference that he wants to be a mentor to those guys and show them the ropes and there’s no one better to do that. I think it bodes well for the future of NASCAR.”    

With the struggles he’s had early this year do you think getting this news out of the way will help him relax and enjoy the rest of his time this season?

“I would think the last year has weighed heavy on him and he has had a lot happen to him in the past year. This has got to be a big relief for him to be able to get it out there and then just focus on driving the race car and I know he wants to do that for his team and his fans. He wants to be able to finish strong.” 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. today announced that he will retire following the 2017 NASCAR season. 

This morning, NASCAR's 14-time Most Popular Driver broke the news to his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports race team, followed shortly thereafter by a press release from Hendrick Motorsports to publicly announce the retirement. According to the release, Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick first met about the driver's decision on March 29.

Earnhardt will discuss his decision during a 3 p.m. ET press conference at Hendrick Motorsports (streamed live on NASCAR.com/presspass).

Throughout a career that spanned parts of 19 seasons and more than 600 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt captured 26 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories. He came close to winning the championship on several occasions, finishing in the top five in points four times. Prior to joining NASCAR's top level, Earnhardt won consecutive titles in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 1998-99.

While driving, Earnhardt set himself up for the future, starting his own race team that competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His teams have won 32 times, and captured the 2014 championship with Chase Elliott - who many believe will assume the crown as NASCAR's most popular driver.

But Earnhardt's immense legacy will lie in the relationship he forged with millions of NASCAR fans. Even during the leanest of performances, Earnhardt's bond with his fans secured him the Most Popular Driver Award following each of the last 14 seasons, which is a NASCAR record.

He was also well-respected among his peers, and the outpouring of respect on social media following the announcement was immediate and plentiful.

Tweeted teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, "You're a hell of friend and teammate @DaleJr, I'm really happy for you and [wife] @AmyEarnhardt."

Tony Stewart, who retired following the 2016 season, tweeted, "I'm proud of my great friend @DaleJr for everything he's done for this sport. I'm even more proud of who he is as a man. Love you friend."

Earnhardt, who will turn 43 in October, made his first career Monster Energy Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Since then, Earnhardt has experienced the sport's extreme highs and lows. In the 2001 Daytona 500, he lost his father, Dale Earnhardt, following a last lap wreck. The next time the series raced at Daytona, Earnhardt Jr. won driving the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet. In 2012, Earnhardt missed two races due to a concussion, but came back two win a combined seven races in 2015-16. And last year, he missed half the season with a concussion, returning this season - his final one.

It was that perseverance that endeared him to millions of fans, and earned him the respect of those closest to him.

Tweeted his wife, Amy: "I'm so proud of Dale for working so hard to get back and even prouder of his courage and self-awareness to make the decision to retire. I'm sure God has many other great plans for him and us!"