Jordan Taylor will wear Dale Earnhardt tribute helmet during the 24 Hours of Le Mans

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When he straps on his helmet for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jordan Taylor will be thinking of Dale Earnhardt – just as he does heading into the Rolex 24 at Daytona every year.

The co-driver of the No. 3 Corvette has heard the legendary stories for a decade from veterans Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim about “The Intimidator’s” lone start in the 2001 Rolex 24, and one tale (even if it might be apocryphal) is his favorite.

When the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion whipped his yellow Corvette Racing GT around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt somehow managed to illuminate the rev limiter on the car’s dashboard while running alone – a feat that his highly accomplished teammates could achieve only by drafting off the slipstream of another car.

It was an affirmation of Earnhardt’s uncanny ability to harness Daytona’s finicky aerodynamics whether he was manhandling through a pack of stock cars or gracefully navigating a racing line with the precision of a sleek sports car.

“He was doing something around the oval that us road course guys just didn’t know,” Taylor told NBC Sports with a sense of wonder. “The first time I heard it in 2011, I thought it was the craziest thing.

“There are still those myths inside our team that he was doing something around turns 3 and 4 and into the trioval that set him apart. He only did one race with the team, and they still talk about it to this day. I can respect what kind of man he was to keep that legacy. I think about it every single year when I go to Daytona.”

(Jamey Price)

When the three-time Rolex 24 winner (including overall titles in 2017 and ’19) hops a Wednesday flight to France, he will be thinking again of Earnhardt – and ensuring “The Man in Black” also is remembered by everyone watching one of the biggest races in the world.

Taylor, 30, will race the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a black replica helmet with the logos of GM Racing, Chevrolet, Goodwrench Service Plus and Snap-on branding that became synonymous with Earnhardt and his famous No. 3 Chevy.

“He’s ‘The Intimidator,’ and I honestly feel a little bit intimidated to wear it,” Taylor said with a laugh. “Because it is his look. It’s who he is. It’s what everyone knew when they looked at the TV. He had an open-faced helmet, so you could see who he was, but I think even if you saw the back quarter of the helmet with just these logos, you knew it was Dale Sr. and ‘The Intimidator.’

“I’m really looking forward to it. I know the NASCAR community will love to see it come back, and I know the sports car racing community, especially in France, they’re a really motorsports-driven community, and I know they’ll love it.”

Jordan Taylor kneels beside the No. 3 Corvette with his Dale Earnhardt tribute helmet (Jamey Price).

The design, which also will include a stylized No. 3 on the front and back, will blend with Taylor’s regular helmet (which features a “J” with stars). It was created by Savage Designs of Melbourne, Florida, and owner Mike Savage “probably painted the helmet three or four times to get it how we wanted it,” Taylor said. “I think it came out really well. The few people I’ve shown it to in person have loved it, so I think the people in France will really respond to it well.”

Because he wanted the logos to reflect their 1990s origins, Taylor cleared the helmet with GM Racing and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was the first person texted by Taylor when the project began two months ago.

Earnhardt Jr. immediately replied “This is gonna be awesome” and offered help to ensure the helmet’s historical accuracy and legitimacy.

Earnhardt Le Mans helmet
(Jamey Price)

“He was obviously the first guy I asked to make sure he was OK with me doing the helmet, and he was super excited,” Taylor said of Earnhardt Jr. “Which was really cool. He’s a busy guy and has a lot more important things to do. So it was nice he spent all the time. I texted (an image) during one of the broadcasts, and he texted me back during a commercial break to say, ‘Yeah, this looks accurate. It looks good!’ I really appreciated that.”

The 2001 Rolex 24 was one of Earnhardt’s last races before he was killed two weeks later in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. co-drove in the 2001 Rolex 24 with his father and has kept a street model replica of the 2001 No. 3 Corvette (his father was due a matching version).

“This is a bit of a symbolic piece for me,” Earnhardt Jr. said during a 2019 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Something that we did together at the end of his life. I only have a handful of cars to my name, and there’s only one or two that I will never ever get rid of, and this is one of them. I’ll always have this. … It means more to me now than I ever thought it would. When we decided to have these cars made, I didn’t know Dad was going to be taken from us just a short time later.”

Earnhardt Le Mans helmet
(Jamey Price)
Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins pose before the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (Jon Ferrey /Allsport).

 

Taylor, who has watched videos of the Earnhardts’ interviews from the 2001 Rolex 24, can relate to the family bonds as the son of the team owner for three of the past four Rolex 24 victories. Jordan and Wayne Taylor raced together once in the Rolex 24 in 2014.

“That was my only chance to drive with my dad,” Jordan Taylor said. “I think the 2001 Rolex was (Earnhardt Jr.’s) only chance to be his dad’s teammate. Watching all the old footage and seeing Dale Jr. racing at the same time is really cool to see they were racing against each other. It’s something I didn’t get to do as a driver, but I think it was really special to be a driver’s son and talk back and forth with Dale Jr. about what it’s like.”

The Earnhardt helmet tribute for Le Mans also is special because the No. 3 C8.R Corvette also won the GTLM class of this year’s Rolex 24 with Taylor and co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg.

“The pass that won us the race was a side draft and get to the lead into the trioval, so it was kind of a NASCAR-style win,” Taylor said. “We are in the 3 car, it’s a Corvette, and it’s Daytona. It was (Earnhardt’s) playground. I think anytime we have those sorts of moments, you think of that history and what he was able to do.”

The No. 3 Corvette GTS that finished second in class and fourth overall at the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jonathan Ferrey/ALLSPORT).

Taylor is expecting the same appreciation for his Earnhardt helmet in France from the Le Mans fans, who enthusiastically greeted his 2012 debut.

“I was a 21-year old American driver who hadn’t done much in his career, and tons of people knew who I was and had pictures printed out of me from go-karts,” said Taylor, who will be making his seventh 24 Hours of Le Mans start in the Aug. 21-22 race. “Things I’d never see at an American racetrack. Their heritage and lineage to American motorsport is really special and deep. Not just sports car racing and Formula One, they follow NASCAR and motorsport as a whole.

Earnhardt Le Mans helmet
Jordan Taylor holds his Dale Earnhardt tribute helmet that he will race with at Le Mans (Jamey Price).

“An icon like a Dale Sr. that really changed the sport as a whole, everyone is going to know about. When they see the helmet, they’ll understand, especially when they associate it with the No. 3 and a Corvette. They’ll know the whole package.”

They also will witness a ceremonial closing of the loop in Earnhardt’s illustrious Hall of Fame career. Corvette Racing had mapped out the logistical framework for having Earnhardt race at Le Mans. “Going to Le Mans was going to be like the pinnacle for (Earnhardt),” former program manager Doug Fehan told NBC Sports in 2019. “It was his dream.”

Earnhardt Jr. has said he is “absolutely 100 percent sure” his father would have raced in the 24-hour sports car classic, meaning Taylor symbolically will be carrying the torch to the finish for an auto racing icon with the “Imitator of ‘The Intimidator’ ” helmet.

“It’s kind of scary to think of that way,” Taylor said. “At the same time, I’m very honored to take a piece of his helmet and design, and hopefully we can do him proud and do Dale Jr. proud as well. His dad wasn’t able to go there in person, but I’m sure he was going to at some point in his career.

“I’m proud to be able to carry on that legacy to the finish line at Le Mans.”

Earnhardt Le Mans helmet
Jordan Taylor strikes a Dale Earnhardt-style pose while wearing his No. 3 tribute helmet (Jamey Price).

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)