NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt pays homage to grandfather with special helmet (From The Evening Tribune)
Jeffrey Earnhardt doesn’t have to look far for inspiration when he climbs into his NASCAR Xfinity Series ride.
In what has become a tradition, Earnhardt’s helmet features an airbrushed image of his grandfather, seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. The first, which debuted at the 2018 Daytona 500, showed a scowling Dale Sr. at the track, looking every bit like some unfortunate driver had just run afoul of the famed Intimidator. The next depicted a shirtless Earnhardt atop a horse, with the caption “Just a GOAT on his horse!”
The 2020 version was Jeffrey Earnhardt’s favorite yet. It featured his grandfather in the woods, just after harvesting a large buck. That helmet might be sticking around a bit longer at select races in 2021 as Earnhardt recently announced he’ll return to the No. 0 for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller.
“I think that was one of the last deer (Dale Sr.) harvested with Realtree,” Earnhardt said. “His partnership with Realtree was really big to him. Those guys were like family to him. I reached out to Tyler Jordan, who is the son of Bill Jordan, the owner of Realtree. I said please, tell me you have this picture in a clear image so we can airbrush it. Noah McEwen at OffAxis Paint is just a beast when it comes to airbrushing stuff and he knocked it out of the park. It’s by far my favorite one they’ve done so far.”
The helmet combines two things Earnhardt has in common with his grandfather — a passion for racing and a love of the outdoors. When he’s not on track, Earnhardt spends as much as time as possible in a tree stand, a ground blind or on the water chasing everything from whitetails to waterfowl and invasive wild hogs.
“It’s something I grew up doing, just enjoying the outdoors, conservation, wildlife — it’s all a big part of my family,” Earnhardt said. “My grandfather obviously was a big outdoorsman who did a lot of conservation and giving back to wildlife. It’s something I’ve grown to really have a passion for over the years. To me it’s nice to eat something where you know where it came from. It’s a rewarding feeling. You put food on the table.”
Earnhardt took up a new hobby the past few years — noodling. For the uninitiated, it entails pulling massive catfish out of river bottoms with your bare hands. Earnhardt insists it’s “not as scary as people make it out to be.” He set a personal record last season with a 54-pound bruiser.
“It’s fun, it’s a big adrenaline rush when you catch a real big catfish with your bare hands,” he said. “You’ve got to have patience with a rod and reel. I tend not to have the best patience when I know I can just go stick my hand in a hole and pull a catfish out.”
Earnhardt gets that adrenaline rush on Saturdays during the NASCAR season. After pushing 200 miles per hour at places like Daytona and Talladega, the relative tranquility of the forest and field offers a respite from the hustle and bustle at the track.
“It’s something I use to decompress from the crazy race schedule,” Earnhardt said. “You need some downtime to get away, especially if things aren’t going so well, so to me the outdoors is the best place to do it. You can get away from everything.”
Earnhardt turned what was a partial schedule at the start of 2020 into a full-time ride for 2021. JD Motorsports is an independent operation without the resources and the big budgets of the cars that dominate victory lane each week. JDM is known for doing more with less, and Earnhardt’s 0 team flashed potential in 2020 with 13 top-20s and five top-15s, knocking on the door of several top-10 finishes.
“We got a late start and the plan was to run six to 12 races but something good was happening and by Bristol you could sense the momentum we were having,” said Earnhardt. “We came home in 15th in our third race and that’s an accomplishment when just a few weeks earlier we had no plans to work together. We had great partners join us and the season had some real bright spots to build on.”
The upcoming season will be Earnhardt’s first full-time campaign since 2014 as he bounced between Xfinity and Cup series competition. He scored three top-10s in 2019, including a career-best third-place run at Charlotte, driving a handful of races in top-flight Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity equipment.
In 2021, Earnhardt is looking to secure every position the 0 car has in it and compete for those top-10 finishes each week.
“We are all aware we are underdogs,” said Earnhardt. “We’re prepared for the hard work it will take to make the playoffs and with additional sponsorship I think we’ll turn some heads. I’m really excited to return to the No. 0 and look forward to working with Johnny (Davis) to give the fans a ‘blue collar’ team to cheer for.”
And maybe that special helmet, in its third iteration, will bring a little luck in 2021.
“He was my hero, so I like to have a little something riding along with me every year,” Earnhardt said.