AUSTIN, Texas — Daniel Ricciardo’s show run in Dale Earnhardt’s 1984 car prompted a tweet of appreciation from the NASCAR legend’s son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., on Saturday.
The tweet left Ricciardo slightly lost for words.
On Saturday morning at the Circuit of the Americas, host of this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix, Ricciardo drove Earnhardt’s Monte Carlo Chevrolet car, painted in Wrangler’s blue and yellow, as a reward for winning last month’s Italian Grand Prix — McLaren’s first win since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.
The ride was offered to Ricciardo by McLaren CEO and avid race car collector Zak Brown, who said at the start of the year he would let the Australian drive it after scoring his first podium for the team.
Ricciardo, who grew up idolising Earnhardt, got roughly 20 minutes in the car on Saturday morning.
Earnhardt still commands a legion of fans in NASCAR 20 years on from his death at the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr., who retired from NASCAR in 2017, said he is pleased that Ricciardo shows his father so much respect.
Asked by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press what he thought about the show run, Earnhardt Jr. replied on Twitter: “I’m happy for Daniel.
“I’m also appreciative for how he celebrates my father. That makes a lot of dads family members and fans smile.”
Ricciardo is also racing this weekend in an Earnhardt tribute helmet, styled on the driver’s iconic stealth black GM Goodwrench car.
After qualifying sixth for Sunday’s race, Earnhardt Jr’s tweet was read to Ricciardo.
“That’s cool, that gives me goosebumps,” he replied. “I’m happy that it’s well received, that’s all I can say.”
Ricciardo later elaborated, saying the tweet might have got the better of him if he wasn’t in front of a TV camera.
“Honestly, if I was in a private setting and he told me that one on one — like maybe here in my room — I think I would have probably cried a little bit.
“It was pretty crazy, but like happy crazy. To be appreciated by that family in general, I’m such a fan.
“And after Sr I was a massive fan of then Jr, watching every NASCAR race for years. I’d wake up and watch Jr try and win the 500 every February.
“It was pretty cool just to be, I guess, recognised and appreciated for having the support for his dad.”
Ricciardo did the test in an open-faced helmet, allowing his facial expression to be seen throughout. On the TV footage of the test it was clear to see Ricciardo enjoying himself and smiling as he drove around the circuit.
Ricciardo said his former Red Bull teammate, championship leader Max Verstappen, even messaged him to say how much he looked like he was enjoying himself.
“It was hilarious,” Ricciardo said. “I got back to my driver room after once I got out of the NASCAR — I walked back — and my phone lit up and it said ‘Max Verstappen,’ and he sent me a screenshot of me down the straight with this massive smile! And he said ‘Looks like you enjoyed yourself!’ So the open face was a good shout.
“It’s funny, I think Rachel [Brookes, Sky Sports] tried to get a few words out of me after it and I don’t know, my adrenaline was still somewhere up here. I’m surprised I’m still awake now, but a little bit of caffeine before quali just got me through it, so I’ll sleep well tonight.”