|Don’t adjust your eyes, it’s not NASCAR Throwback weekend.|
However, Sunday afternoon’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at the famed Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was the perfect opportunity for Rick Ware Racing to honor a track legend.
When Austin Theriault circles his No. 51 JACOB Companies Ford Mustang in Sunday’s NASCAR Playoff race, his paint scheme will look familiar.
|If you have ever attended a NASCAR race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, you’ve probably seen the iconic gold semi-tractor with gray stripes hauling a giant American flag speeding towards the start-finish line as the National Anthem is being played.|
A custom Talladega tradition, there is no greater display of American pride than in those few moments leading up to the start of the race.
The iconic pre-race salute was started in 2001 by racing legend John Ray Sr., shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the tragic passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Ray along with Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch searched for an idea to boost the moral of the nation and a devasted fan base that had endured a year of tragedies. The answer was found in the 18-wheeler of Ray Sr. and the mutual love and respect for the United States of America.
From that point on, a Talladega tradition was born.
“It was 2001, we just had the 9-11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt Sr. had also passed away earlier that year,” said Ray who resides in nearby Eastaboga. “I had a crazy Idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.
“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family.” added Ray.
“It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”
Lynch said Ray’s unique idea has turned into a monumental staple at Talladega.
“Johnny’s flag idea really turned out to be something very unique to Talladega,” he said. “It has become one of the most Iconic National Anthem traditions in sports. I’ve seen others try things similar, but here at Talladega we have the biggest flag on the biggest track, and I think it can be copied, but can never be duplicated.”
On Sunday, Theriault’s JACOB Companies Ford Mustang will carry the same look as Ray’s quintessential 18-wheeler for 188 laps.
“When Bryan at RWR sent me the rendering and asked me what I thought, I told him to make it happen,” offered Don Perry, president of JACOB Companies. “That truck and the gigantic American flag are a big part of the Talladega experience. They are a tradition at Talladega and I am proud to have Jacob Companies on this car that is paying tribute to John Ray and his idea to start this wonderful tradition.
“We have had some really good paint schemes this year on the Jacob Companies No.51 and this one is definitely one of the best. I’m excited to see how that gold flake design looks like out on the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway.”
Team principal Rick Ware added, “Shawn Magee, who has designed some great looking cars for us this season, sent our general manager, Bryan Clodfelter this idea about a month ago. When Bryan brought it to me in my office, I had pretty much the same reaction as everyone else who has seen it.
“As soon as I saw it I knew we had to do this. We sent it in to NASCAR and they approved it and I am very proud to be able to do this tribute for the Ray family. This truck is iconic, not only just to Talladega but to all NASCAR fans.”
Theriault, the 2017 ARCA Menards Series champion will make his fifth career Cup Series start on Oct. 13. In one prior start at the famed Alabama race track, he finished fourth during his championship ARCA season after starting fourth.
The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season continues with the 1000Bulbs.com at Talladega Superspeedway on Sun., Oct. 13 at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC, the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM Satellite Radio NASCAR Channel 90.