Martinsville, Va. (AP) _ Dale Earnhardt took a moment Saturday to appreciate what could be his final helicopter ride to Martinsville Speedway.
The significance of the short flight from North Carolina is that it was one of the very few things NASCAR's most popular driver wanted in his contract with Hendrick Motorsports.
He generally leaves the negotiations with Rick Hendrick to his sister, Kelley, but explained Saturday how he got his helicopter rides.
Here are Earnhardt's own words: "Yeah, so, I went to one team owner to talk about driving their car, it was me and my sister, and they put the contract down in front of us and I saw the money they wanted to pay me. And I told Kelley, I didn’t want to see any more contracts. I went to talk to Rick by myself. We sat down in his office and he put the paper across the table from me and said take a look, and I turned it over and said I don’t even want to see it. You and Kelley deal with that. I don’t even want to know about all that money.
"I said the only two things I want are helicopter rides to Martinsville and painted side skirts. And so back then, the painted side skirt was a little more difficult. So, been able to use that helicopter had just made a lot of things convenient. We’ve used it more so than just to Martinsville. We’ve used it to get to certain appearances. We flew back and forth to Charlotte and to the house a hundred times. Those were the two things I think were important to me that day.
"And so, I thanked him this morning when we were riding out. I said, 'This is the last ride as your driver, man; I really appreciate all the trips because there have been countless trips in that thing and me and him always joke about it being the only thing I cared about when we were sitting down to talk contracts.' So, that’s how that all worked out.
"He’s just a really nice guy who does great by his employees and treats everybody incredibly well. We all know the story about Rick. He’s just an amazing person and he said to me, his response was, that he hopes there’s a lot more helicopter rides in our future (laughs). We both want to continue to be a part of each other’s lives on a personal level and maybe even on a professional level, too. I’m just thankful for him to allow me to use that helicopter.”