Daniel Ricciardo lives out his boyhood dream at the wheel of Dale Earnhardt’s car


AUSTIN, Texas — An unfamiliar sound roared round the paddock at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday morning. It was a uncooked, extra visceral and throatier sound than the V6 engines of the Formula One vehicles set to contest this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix.

It was being fired up by Daniel Ricciardo, at the wheel of his boyhood hero Dale Earnhardt’s 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo NASCAR — a garish blue and yellow inventory car painted in the colors of Wrangler. As half of his 20-minute present run, he drove a handful of laps and handled some of the early arrivals to COTA’s grandstands to some burnouts.

Wearing an open-visor helmet, his ear-to-ear grin was seen by way of the windscreen as he drove round the circuit.

Before moving into the car he had the power of a child locked in a sweet retailer on Christmas day. He was nonetheless smiling when he climbed out of the car 20 minutes later.

“I’m out of breath,” Ricciardo informed the TV cameras as soon as the run completed. “I was really working hard on that wheel.

“It was cool. Just to listen to it, and simply to alter gears, you simply felt such as you’re actually on prime of it.

“You have to wrestle it. But saying that, it handled a lot better than I thought. It was really cool. Felt like I was able to get into it. I wasn’t comfortable catching the oversteers, you have to catch the wheel and I’m not really used to that. It got out of me a little bit.”

Ricciardo was stood subsequent to the car’s proprietor, his boss, McLaren CEO Zak Brown, as he gave the TV interviews. Brown is the man who made it occur. At the begin of the 12 months Brown had promised his new recruit a run in the car when he scored his first podium for the staff.

Ricciardo went one higher than only a podium end, profitable final month’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, McLaren’s first victory since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, and Brown duly delivered on his promise.

“We said podium, we didn’t actually say win, so I’m still expecting something else for the win,” Ricciardo stated jokingly.

Brown laughed and replied: “He’s trying to keep the car now!”

The story of the way it got here to be Brown’s is fascinating in itself. Long earlier than he turned CEO of one of F1’s most well-known groups, Brown attended the 1983 Budweiser 400 at the Riverside International Raceway in California. The race was gained by Ricky Rudd for Richard Childress Racing. The following 12 months, Rudd’s car was transformed to Earnhardt’s when he changed Rudd at the staff, with a contemporary lick of paint when Wrangler turned Earnhardt’s sponsor.

Three years in the past, Brown, an avid race car collector, lastly received the probability to buy the Chevrolet himself and he could not flip it down.

“That’s a special car,” Brown stated in a press convention on Friday.

Ricciardo, who first noticed the car Thursday, agreed, marvelling at how putting the blue and yellow car seemed in individual and the way primary the car design was — a far cry from the remarkably technical F1 vehicles Ricciardo has been racing since his debut in 2011.

“It’s kind of like art. It always looks better in the flesh,” Ricciardo informed ESPN on Friday, the night earlier than the present run. “It really is. Historic race cars are now art.

“The situation it was in is de facto cool. The paint scheme all of it, it pops so properly. It’s tremendous like… rectangular. There’s not a lot aerodynamics! It’s very sq..

“If you picture how a 10-year-old would draw a car – that’s what they’d draw, rectangle, square, whatever. That’s what it looks like, but it’s really cool.”

F1 drivers are used to a good slot in the cockpit, however Ricciardo admitted he was stunned at how shut he was to the steering wheel.

“It’s snug. The distance from body to wheel is really tight. That’s tighter than in F1, it’s really close so you feel a bit restricted here with your shoulders. But obviously the footwell and the rest is more open. The seat is relatively snug but other than the wheel being really close you’ve got a bit more space.”

Demonstrating how he would drive it, Ricciardo tucked out his elbows so that they have been up degree with his chin and moved them round as if driving a car. “It’s kind of like that!”

Even earlier than moving into the car, he was relishing the prospect of tackling the the Monte Carlo’s handbook gearbox — even seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has stated that might be a function of his dream Formula One car.

“Four-speed stick,” Ricciardo stated. “Can’t wait to do that. That’s the good stuff.”

For Ricciardo, the exhibition run actually was a dream come true. The Earnhardt stuff is not only for present; Ricciardo’s affection for the seven-time champion NASCAR driver goes again a great distance. Most F1 drivers will level to a different F1 driver as their boyhood hero — Lewis Hamilton’s is Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Vettel’s is Michael Schumacher — however for Ricciardo, his racing idols rising up have been his father, Joe, who raced competitively in Europe and Australia, and Earnhardt.

As a budding karting driver in Perth, Ricciardo collected diecast fashions of Earnhardt’s vehicles, and some of Dale Earnhardt Junior’s, who Ricciardo met at a NASCAR race in 2018.

Funnily sufficient, the Wrangler car was really one of the few Earnhardt fashions he by no means owned.

Ricciardo can bear in mind precisely the place he was when he discovered Earnhardt had been killed at the 2001 Daytona 500, with a vivid picture in his head of sitting below the desk in the workplace of his household dwelling, crying his eyes out.

“I have a very photographic memory,” he informed ESPN when requested about that day. “I literally, when you said it, I had the image. We had on the TV the teleinfo, teletext, whatever you call it. I went to the sports tab because it was an overnight for us.

“I used to report the races and the recording screwed up, so I received midway by way of the race. I used to be livid. So I went on the teletext factor, I went sport, then NASCAR, and it was ‘Legend Earnhardt killed’. I could not consider it. I could not perceive how.

“I remember then seeing the crash and it didn’t look that big. [Tony] Stewart had a pretty big crash earlier in the same race, so I was like, how? I have that image.

“I bear in mind strolling down the hall crying and I picked up the telephone and referred to as my buddy who received me into Earnhardt and we cried on the telephone collectively. I walked into the workplace, sat below the desk, referred to as him. We have been simply crying. I’ve all these recollections.”

Earnhardt had first caught Ricciardo’s attention as he had already chosen the number three to race with in go-karts in the late 1990s as it was the number of the Ricciardo family’s house in Perth.

In 2014, Ricciardo picked the number three as his Formula One career number as a nod to Earnhardt, meaning he will race with it until the day he decides to retire (unless he wins a championship, when he would have the choice of switching to number one).

The influence of Earnhardt on Ricciardo has been clear to see. Ricciardo has cemented a reputation as F1’s best overtaker — after winning the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix, a victory built on a series of brilliant passes, he famously said he had decided to “lick the stamp and ship it”.

At the start of this season, Ricciardo said he wanted to be F1’s version of The Intimidator, the nickname Earnhardt got for the take-no-prisoners approach to racing and the fear he instilled in his rivals. His take on that is The Honey Badger, an animal renowned for its aggression and toughness.

Earnhardt became most associated with The Intimiadtor nickname from 1987 onwards, when the Wrangler colours were replaced by the stealth black of GM Goodwrench. The black car with the giant number three is perhaps Earnhardt’s most iconic look.

Ahead of this weekend’s race, Ricciardo unveiled a tribute helmet to Earnhardt in the GM Goodwrench colours, with ‘Goodwrench Service Plus’ changed to ‘McLaren Service Plus’, and helmet designer ‘Simpson’ replaced with ‘Daniel’. He will wear the helmet whenever he is in his Formula One car this weekend.

Asked about how important it is to have a reputation like Earnhardt in the eyes of your rivals, Ricciardo said: “It’s actual, for certain. It can play a component.

“What I Iove about sport, whether it’s racing or other sport, is the sport psychology. The mental aspect of it. If you can get into someone’s head it’s the most powerful thing. I dunno, we’re all trying to be the best and you do want to find every way possible to have one over.

“If you’ll be able to put concern into somebody, that is a reasonably highly effective feeling. It might sound fairly savage however that is the nature of sport and that is what you attempt to do. That’s why I attempt to stay as much as the Honey Badger.”

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