Matchup Mania (Round 1): Dale Earnhardt’s 1986 Wrangler vs. David Gilliland’s 2011 Honoring Our Heroes

Chances are pretty high if you’re reading this you already know about Lionel Racing and Splash ‘n Go’s Lord of the Schemes bracket, and the chances are you’ve already voted, too. If you’re one of those who haven’t yet enjoyed the thrill of voting for 32 matchups of some of NASCAR’s most iconic and popular paint schemes, I have one question for you: what’s stopping you?

You know you want to have your opinions count. You know you love looking at cool paint schemes that make you feel all nostalgic inside and leave you wanting more. So head on over to http://woobox.com/kqep62 to vote on the first round before it’s too late.

We’ve decided every now and then to highlight one of the matchups in the current round to let those who are still not convinced that they should vote see what they’re missing. The first matchup highlighted Jeff Gordon’s 1994 DuPont paint scheme vs. Bobby Labonte’s 1999 design.

Today, we’ll dissect the merits of two paint schemes entrenched in an epic struggle worthy of a No. 6 and No. 11 seed. If you’ve looked at the graphic attached to this article, you will probably notice that the car on the left (in the No. 6 seed) is Dale Earnhardt’s 1986 No. 3 Wrangler Jeans Chevrolet while the other car is the No. 34 Honoring Our Heroes Ford driven by David Gilliland in one race during the 2011 season.

It’s a battle between a car driven by a NASCAR Hall of Famer during one of his championship campaigns and a car driven by a current driver for one race. However, there is so much meaning and power behind the significance of Gilliland’s paint scheme.

Although Earnhardt drove the No. 3 Wrangler Jeans Chevrolet in the 1984 and 1985 seasons, 1986 was the first year he won the championship in the car (his second of a record-tying seven series titles in his career).

In 1986, Earnhardt won five times en route to beating Darrell Waltrip in the final championship standings by 288 points. That season he won back-to-back races at Darlington Raceway and North Wilkesboro Speedway in April.

In both races he dominated the competition. He led 335 of the 367 laps in the TranSouth 500 at Darlington, beating runner-up Waltrip by three car lengths. In the next race, Earnhardt led a race-high 195 of 400 laps in the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro. It was his first of five wins at the track.

His next win came in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the Memorial Day Weekend. Although he only led 26 of the race’s 400 laps in NASCAR’s longest race, he finished with a five-second advantage over Tim Richmond.

Earnhardt’s next win (fourth win of 1986) wouldn’t come until the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to Charlotte for October’s Oakwood Homes 500. In the race, he tied Geoff Bodine with the second-most laps led in the race with 80 apiece. However, Richmond led all drivers with 123. By the end of the night, Earnhardt had won by 1.9 seconds over Harry Gant.

Two races later, Earnhardt lapped the entire field in the Atlanta Journal 500 and finished ahead of second-place finisher Richard Petty by one lap and three seconds. During the race, he led 162 of 328 laps.

In 1987, Earnhardt one 11 races in his third championship season. In 1988, Earnhardt began his long run with GM Goodwrench.

Some might wonder about the story behind Gilliland’s 2011 Honoring Our Heroes paint scheme and why it was included. Although he drove the car in one race — the September 10, 2011, Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway — there’s a much more important reason this car was included in the paint scheme bracket.

As you may have noticed from the date, the race was the day before the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. As a way of honoring and remembering those who were lost, Lionel Racing, along with the support of NASCAR, developed the “Honoring Our Heroes” program. Each car’s special paint scheme pays tribute to the victims of the attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Lionel Racing partnered with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation with a large percentage of the money made from the sales of the die-cast of the eight cars participating in the program going to the foundation. Stephen Siller was a firefighter in NYC who ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center towers in full gear to help out. He died giving his all to help countless other.

The donation went to the construction of customized homes for two military personnel who both lost both legs and arms in combat. Around a quarter of a million dollars was donated as a result of the die-cast program.

The eight cars participating in the program that competed in one of the two Richmond races (NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR XFINITY Series) that weekend were Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (all NASCAR XFINITY), Gilliland, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray (all NASCAR Sprint Cup).

Each of the eight cars carried a “Honoring Our Heroes” paint scheme. Gilliland’s paint scheme on his No. 34 Ford was the program car and featured the Foundation’s logo on the hood and the rear quarter panel. On both sides of the Ford were the outlines of the two World Trade Center towers and the American flag. To the right of his number on the door was a ghosted number “3” to represent the 343 firefighters who died in the attack.

Don’t hold off on voting in the first round any longer. Let us know through your votes which paint scheme is truly the “Lord of the Schemes.” The first round runs through September 8.

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