Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reminisces About Competing Against Darlington’s Rudy Branham

by April 13, 2016

DARLINGTON, S.C. – While Dale Earnhardt Jr. was at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday, unveiling his Nationwide Insurance scheme that he’ll run in the 67th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500, he took a few moments to talk about racing against Darlington legend, Rudy Branham at Florence Motor Speedway.

On March 28, 2015, Rudy Branham, a local Late Model racer from Darlington, South Carolina lost his life to cancer at only 60 years old. Rudy was known in his hometown as an easy going guy, who was a walking encyclopedia of stock car racing. He’d even take time out of his Mondays to co-host “That’s Racing” on Eagle 92.9 with Dan E. Lockemy and at times, with Darlington Raceway president, Chip Wile and myself.

However, Rudy’s reputation went so far beyond the Palmetto State. He had a good number of friends who worked in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage as well, and one of them was Dale Earnhardt Jr. The day that Rudy lost his battle with cancer, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was at Martinsville Speedway, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sent out this tweet.

Rudy Branham raced against the young Earnhardt Jr. on a regular basis at Florence Motor Speedway for four years. During that time, Earnhardt Jr. was still trying to make a name for his self and well, Rudy was a well-seasoned veteran, who was full of knowledge.

“Yea, I raced with Rudy at Florence every weekend I raced at Florence for four years,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

One story that Earnhardt Jr. remembers very vividly is when he asked Rudy how many pounds of air pressure that he puts in his tires. Back then, although Earnhardt Jr.’s family had deep roots in stock car racing, it was still a good idea to get advice from other veterans, who had been tearing up the local short tracks. The answer that Rudy Branham gave Earnhardt Jr. kept the young kid guessing. Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t sure if the veteran was telling the truth or if he was just making up an answer.

“I liked racing with Rudy,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The funniest thing: Rudy would come to the track, and he would pull his car off of the trailer, get his tires, set them down, air them up and then he’d sit there. He’d eat a sandwich, drink a drink, whatever. I didn’t know many guys over there. I just always didn’t really associate with too many people, but I went over to Rudy and I said, ‘Rudy what do you do with air pressure,’ and he says, ‘I just put 28 pounds in all of them. I don’t even measure them. I just put them on the car, and I go run’. And I was like, man that’s cool. Even if he wasn’t telling me the truth, I don’t even know, but he didn’t seem to be too concerned about what was going to go on that night.”

No matter what kind of day Rudy was having at the racetrack, you certainly couldn’t tell it through his grin. He was just so happy to be at the racetrack and have that camaraderie with the others drivers, team members and fans. Everyone Rudy talked with, he left a lasting impression. On Wednesday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, you could hear the same spark in Earnhardt Jr.’s tone as he talked about racing at Florence Motor Speedway and with Rudy.

“He just enjoyed being at the track and racing, and he’s going to be missed and certainly, it’s fun for me to remember those times and think back to all of those guys that I used to race against, and Rudy was one of them that I enjoyed being around even outside of the car, he was just a real easy going guy.”