In celebration of his return to racing at this Sunday’s Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. donned a Goodyear Blimp pilot uniform and took a different kind of lap in the Goodyear Blimp on Wednesday, surprising a U.S. military veteran with the experience of a lifetime.
Earnhardt Jr., who missed 18 races last season while recovering from a concussion, will get behind the familiar wheel of his “88” car Sunday seeking his third Daytona 500 victory on the confidence of Goodyear tires. But it was an altogether different experience sitting at the controls of the iconic Goodyear Blimp.
“This was such a cool day – being able to co-pilot the Goodyear Blimp and connect with a fan who has so honorably served our country,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I’m proud to be involved with Goodyear. Ever since we started working together, I’ve wanted to ride in the blimp, so this was a great experience that I will never forget.”
With weather less than ideal in the Daytona Beach area Wednesday, the blimp was limited in flight and only got off the ground for a few minutes. But the day was all about Paul Siverson, a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran who served in the military for 30 years. Siverson describes Earnhardt as his “first, second and third favorite NASCAR driver.”
Coupled with his Earnhardt Jr. fandom, it was Siverson’s dedication to NCServes, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services to veterans, service members and their families, that made Siverson the perfect candidate for the surprise ride with NASCAR’s most popular driver.
In honor of soldiers like Siverson, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company donated $10,000 to NCServes with Earnhardt Jr. on hand for the check presentation. In addition to the blimp flight, Siverson will receive access at Daytona Speedweeks including tickets to the Great American Race on Sunday.
Goodyear has more than 100 years of history building innovative tires and equipment to help support and protect U.S. troops and is the largest producer of military tires in the country. The tire manufacturer has helped build more than 150 blimps for the U.S. Navy and continues to recognize the skills of veterans through a robust hiring program and was recently recognized with the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award.
“We’re honored to celebrate the return of Dale Jr. to NASCAR and recognize an American hero like Paul,” said Seth Klugherz, Goodyear’s director of North America marketing. “Connecting American icons NASCAR and the Goodyear Blimp to provide an experience for a military veteran is a natural way to extend Goodyear’s unwavering support to the U.S. Armed Forces.”