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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bringing Back Iconic ‘Gray Ghost’

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Some special paint schemes are just a little more special than others.

Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive a No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet trimmed out in the famed “Gray Ghost” paint scheme from Harry Ranier’s Oldsmobile that Buddy Baker drove when he won the 1980 Daytona 500.

More than 37 years later, Baker’s average speed of 177.602 miles per hour still stands as the fastest Daytona 500 ever.

Baker, known as “Leadfoot” and the “Gentle Giant,” was one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers, a fan favorite for his talent behind the wheel and behind the radio microphone. He died at the age of 74 on Aug. 10, 2015, from lung cancer.

Ranier Racing

I wrote about Baker and the Gray Ghost in my old job at and after I did, the legendary Tom Higgins, the longtime NASCAR reporter at the Charlotte Observer and a close friend of Baker’s, contacted me.

Higgins went to visit Baker in the driver’s final days and when he did, he found Baker had a photo of the Gray Ghost on his mantle, so he could look at it and remember the good times and joy the car brought to him. That’s how much he loved that car. It meant the world to him.

So it’s especially fitting that Earnhardt, a driver with a keen sense of and appreciation for NASCAR history, is racing the Gray Ghost 2.0 at Martinsville this weekend. Earnhardt was originally scheduled to drive this paint scheme at Darlington Raceway in 2016, but he missed the Bojangles’ Southern 500 because of a concussion.

This weekend, Earnhardt will be able to both pay tribute to Baker and give his loyal JR Nation fans yet another reason to cheer.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.