Driving Dale Earnhardt’s iconic 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo around the Circuit of the Americas as reward for his Italian GP win, Daniel Ricciardo says it was “sick, raw and foreign”.
Joining McLaren at the start of this season, Ricciardo made a bet with the team’s CEO Zak Brown that if he put his MCL35M on the podium, he could have a spin in 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo NASCAR stock car.
Ricciardo races the number ‘3’ because that was his hero Earnhardt’s number.
Never mind a podium finish, the Aussie went one better as he won this year’s Italian Grand Prix, leading home his team-mate Lando Norris in a McLaren 1-2.
Brown, who owns Earnhardt’s car, honoured the bet at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.
“It was sick, it was so much fun,” said Ricciardo.
“It’s so different as well. I got my kicks out of it because it’s so raw and foreign. The noise, smashing gears, the driving position… Like everything’s quite unique.
“And it’s Dale’s car – one of my all-time heroes. So that was surreal. Good fun.
“And I think to do it here as well. If we had rented a private track somewhere in England, I don’t know, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. So I’m really grateful that Zak flew it out here.”
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Earnhardt’s son, Dale Earnhardt Jr, watched the laps on television and was delighted with the Aussie’s moment.
“I’m happy for Daniel,” he said. “I’m also appreciative for how he celebrates my father. That makes a lot of dad’s family members and fans smile.”
Ricciardo was touched by Earnhardt Jr’s words.
He told Sky Sports: “When Will Buxton told me at the end of the interview, I immediately got goosebumps. Honestly, if we’d been in a private setting and he [Junior] told me that one-on-one, I think I’d probably have cried a little bit.
“It was pretty crazy – like, happy-crazy – to be appreciated by that family in general. I’ve been such a fan.
“After Senior, I was a massive fan of Junior. I was watching every NASCAR race for years. I’d wake up and watch Junior try and win the 500 every February.
“It was pretty cool just to be recognised and appreciated for having support for his dad.”
He added: “I ran the 3 in his font on my helmet… and I remember speaking to Dale Jr. I was like, ‘Do I ask if I can do it?’ Even before I asked, he was like, ‘That’s so cool, we really appreciate you.’
“But I was also confident enough in my ‘fanboy’. I’d followed Dale for so many years as a kid, and then Dale Jr., so I was confident that if I got questioned about it I could speak truly and truthfully about it.
“And to bring that into F1 – it’s a bit like myself and Lando with Valentino Rossi. He’s got nothing to do with F1 but he’s a huge figure in motorsport and I appreciate that. It’s the same with Earnhardt.”