On its annual “Jeansboro Day” at the corporate headquarters of Wrangler on a bright, sunny Wednesday morning, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Richard Childress entertained a crowd of onlookers with grand tales of how Childress, the Earnhardt family and the iconic maker of denim jeans came to weave a history together that dates back more than 30 years.
It was while the elder Earnhardt was driving for Childress in the 1980s that the unique relationship really took flight through aggressive, unprecedented advertising campaigns that involved Earnhardt Jr. as a youth, celebrities such as country music superstar Willie Nelson and slogans that pushed Junior’s hard-driving father as “one tough customer.”
Folks tend to remember Earnhardt’s iconic black No. 3 Goodwrench-sponsored car the most, but before that he drove a yellow-and-blue Wrangler-sponsored car.
“I remember all my younger years, going to the race track from ’81 to ’87, Dad being in a blue-and-yellow Wrangler car every single week,” Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday. “Blue and yellow were our favorite colors.
“Every pair of jeans we had in the house was Wrangler jeans. Dad and (stepmother) Teresa (Earnhardt) were adamant that we wore our Wranglers everywhere we went. That was just part of the deal. That was part of the family, being part of the NASCAR family and the Wrangler family.”
Childress first cut a deal with Wrangler to sponsor Earnhardt’s RCR car for the last 10 races of the 1981 season. He had to give up driving the car himself to give up the ride to Earnhardt, who won his first of a record seven NASCAR Premiere Series championships in 1980 with owner Rod Osterlund but did not want to be part of the deal when Osterlund sold out to J.D. Stacey less than a full year later.
It was the beginning of Childress-Earnhardt-Wrangler relationship that continues today with Earnhardt Jr. being a pitchman for the brand. The younger Earnhardt also drove a No. 3 blue-and-yellow, Wrangler-sponsored car to Victory Lane in what now is the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Daytona International Speedway in a one-off deal in July of 2010.
“I remember coming up to Greensboro as a kid,” Earnhardt said. “Dad would come up here to have conversations with Wrangler. I remember coming up with him one time and David Allen worked with Wrangler at that time (as director of special events), and David had some packaging tape. He stuck it together and said he’d give me 20 bucks if I could pull it apart. And I spent all day trying to get that thing apart.
“That was probably 1982. … There is no loyalty like what you see in NASCAR, as far as brand loyalty not only within the drivers and their families but from the fans who follow those particular drivers.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me if I’ve got my Wranglers on. They recognize the marketing and know the history of the relationship, not only with me but with my father as well. They expect and anticipate that those Wranglers will be on there.”
Junior said that he finds that astounding.
“It’s amazing to me that the relationship has spanned so many years. My father first had Wrangler on the side of his car at the end of the 1980 season. He won the championship with Wrangler on the quarter-panel of his car, racing at Ontario in 1980 for the final race of the season – and then went into the 1981 season with Wrangler as his full-time sponsor (while still driving for Osterlund).
“We’re still working together today, and I’m very proud of that relationship and very proud that it’s spanned so many years. Typically relationships don’t last that long, so I think it says a lot about Wrangler and what they get out of the sport, their connection to race fans, and the legacy of the Earnhardt family and Richard, and everything that Richard and dad did together. They really built a great relationship that has stood the test of time.”