MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Aug. 3, 2017) – More than 20 years ago, Kelley Earnhardt Miller drove Late Models for her father’s team out of Mooresville. On Saturday night, JR Motorsports’ vice-president and general manager will return to the track at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway...or at least her paint scheme will.
Josh Berry, the all-time leader in CARS Late Model Stock Car series victories and driver of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, surprised Earnhardt Miller with a throwback paint scheme for the CARS Throwback 276 event set for Saturday night at Hickory, the legendary short track that has seen three generations of Earnhardts race and win there.
The paint scheme is all black and carries the logo of Mom ‘n’ Pop’s, a local smoked-meats business, the same as it did in 1995 when Earnhardt Miller raced it. For this race, Berry swapped his usual No. 88 for Earnhardt Miller’s No. 38.
“When I found out that the CARS Tour was doing a throwback race, this was the first idea that popped into my head for sure,” Berry said during the unveiling. “Kelley, Dale Jr. and L.W. (Miller) have all been very influential in my career, and it’s a cool way to kind of give a little bit back to them.”
For Earnhardt Miller, it was an emotional moment. Berry had kept the throwback scheme close to the vest, and the first time she saw it was when it was unveiled.
“It looks just like it,” she exclaimed as the car cover was taken off. “...I might cry! You might have to give up your seat,” she said to a grinning Berry. “It looks just like my car. Dale Jr. built one of my first cars, the black car. The fact that we can do the No. 38 car is really cool. It looks like I could just crawl right back in it and go race.”
During the three seasons she raced in Late Models, many of the races took place at Hickory, the .363-mile oval just off I-40. It brought back a lot of memories for Earnhardt Miller.
“In 1994, 1995 and 1996 I raced Late Models with my brothers, Dale and Kerry, for Chance Inc., which was a team my dad put together,” she said. “In 1994, we ran a ton at Caraway and Hickory, and in 1995 and 1996 we ran a lot at Tri-County and Myrtle Beach. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I think the best I finished was fourth.
“I know the competition is really tough these days, but back then we had 40 cars showing up every week and I ran against the likes of Andy Houston, Max Prestwood and Dexter Canipe...some really tough cookies. Hickory is really special to me and to my whole family. My dad raced there, my grandfather raced there. It’s a really neat thing.”
Earnhardt Miller’s daughter, Karsyn, made her first Limited Late Model start at Hickory in June, 2016, making it four generations of Earnhardts that have raced there. She finished 15th in the 35-lap feature.
Berry said the support he and teammate Anthony Alfredo get for the Late Model team at JRM from Earnhardt Miller, JRM Director of Motorsports L.W. Miller and Earnhardt Jr. was the biggest factor in choosing the scheme for the Aug. 5 event at HMS.
“Kelley and L.W. come to the races all the time and really support our team,” he said. “I know they’d like to see it out there, and it’s an iconic paint scheme for Late Model racing. I really wanted to keep my throwback in the Late Model ranks, that era. They raced a lot at Hickory so it kind of made sense. We’re really hoping to put it in Victory Lane. I’m excited for her and I think it is going to be a really fun weekend for us.”
Berry knows Victory Lane at Hickory very well. In his career at JRM, Berry has earned 43 Late Model victories, and nearly half (21) have come at Hickory. In the past two seasons, he’s won 18 times and six have come at Hickory in both CARS LMSC and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competition.
Earnhardt Miller was appreciative of the thought that went into the choice.
“I think it’s cool that he chose this scheme...Dale usually gets all the accolades, so I’m just going to soak this one up,” she said.