When Dale Earnhardt Shocked the NASCAR World
by Tom Jensen May 19, 2022
In one of the best-kept NASCAR secrets ever, Richard Childress Racing saluted R.J. Reynolds and revolutionized the collectibles market.
Special paint schemes have been a staple of the all-star event for more than a quarter of a century, with the roots tracing directly back to 1995, when Hall of Famers Richard Childress (2017) and Dale Earnhardt (2010) stunned the racing world.
Back then, the all-star event was known as The Winston Select, in honor of series sponsor R.J. Reynolds, and it was run at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In that era, teams typically used only one paint scheme the whole season long, unlike today when most teams rotate a series of primary sponsors throughout the year.
In 1995, Earnhardt was at the height of his stardom, coming off his record-tying seventh premier series championship in 1994. Six of those seven titles came driving for Richard Childress Racing.
Earnhardt had a huge fan following and his jet-black No. 3 RCR Chevrolet was one of the most iconic and easily recognizable paint schemes of the day.
So when Earnhardt drove through a GM Goodwrench banner on pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway to reveal a top-secret silver paint scheme to honor RJR's 25th anniversary in NASCAR, it sent shock waves through the garage.
Nobody expected Earnhardt or RCR to ever change colors, especially given the strong connection between the driver and his intimidating black Chevrolet.
Earnhardt changing colors was one of the biggest news stories of the entire season, even though “Quicksilver,” as the car was known, was only raced once.
In fact, it was shocking that team owner Childress kept it secret from his own crew. The car was prepped in primer gray when the team sent all of its crewmembers home—except the painters.
None of Earnhardt’s pit crew knew the car was silver until it was unloaded at Charlotte Motor Speedway. They were just as stunned as the media and the fans.
The unveiling of the car at Charlotte Motor Speedway was attended by, among others, NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr (2010). and T. Wayne Robertson, who was president of Sports Marketing Enterprises, a division of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
“In honor of your 25th anniversary. I think it’s only appropriate that we give you something silver,” Earnhardt told Robertson at the unveiling. “You’ve done so much for me and my career. I’ve been racing in Winston Cup for 17 years and in that time, the folks at R.J. Reynolds have always treated me like family.”
Unfortunately for Earnhardt and RCR, the trick colors did not translate into a race victory.
In honor of your 25th anniversary. I think it’s only appropriate that we give you something silver.
— Dale Earnhardt
In the '95 edition of The Winston, Earnhardt ran well for much of the night, but got loose in the final segment, slid up into Darrell Waltrip (2012) and Jeff Gordon (2019) dove low to become the youngest winner in the history of the event.
For some, Earnhardt's silver paint scheme was a curse.
"Maybe it was like Michael Jordan wearing No. 45 and losing his jump shot," wrote Charlotte Observer columnist Ron Green.
Even though the silver Chevy didn’t win the race, in terms of commercial success, it was a bonanza. A limited run of silver No. 3 diecast cars sold out virtually instantaneously and are prized collectibles to this day.
From then on, the RCR No. 3 has a different paint scheme for every all-star race, and sales of diecasts and t-shirts soared for Earnhardt, who was on the cutting edge of merchandising.
And when other teams witnessed the success, it wasn’t long before special paint schemes became a fixture of the all-star race.