Dale Earnhardt, ace Goodyear blimp pilot, gives veteran a ride

Dale Earnhardt Jr. obviously is excited about making his return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in Sunday’s Daytona 500 live on FOX at 2 p.m. ET.

But after sitting out the second half of last season — 18 races in all — because of the after-effects of a concussion that also limited what he could do away from the track for several months, it’s safe to say he also was pretty pumped to be handed the keys to the Goodyear blimp the other day.

Dressed in full co-pilot’s gear, Earnhardt was at the controls of the blimp while surprising one of his biggest fans — Vietnam and Gulf War Veteran Paul Siverson. Earnhardt helped take the blimp up and around Daytona Beach with Siverson as his special guest, who at first had no idea of his famous co-pilot’s real identity.

Earnhardt also hooked Siverson up with tickets to Sunday’s race and VIP access throughout the week. Check out Earnhardt’s pilot skills and how he surprised Siverson in the cool videos below.

Earnhardt will start on the outside in the front row for Sunday’s Daytona 500 after qualifying second in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which moves just a little bit faster than the Goodyear blimp.