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Earnhardt and Eury paying tribute to family with 'Emma'

CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 15, 2008)—They’ll call the car Emma, in honor of their granddad and legendary fabricator Robert Gee.

But really the chassis model Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. are using for the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet this weekend is more than just a tribute to Gee. It’s a link to a racing legacy, the logical generation of a friendship founded in South Hill, Va., between Gee and Rick Hendrick.

That relationship has led the families to this weekend’s Daytona 500 where Gee’s grandsons – Earnhardt and Eury – now are part of Hendrick’s team. Earnhardt and Eury joined Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season.

In a way, it’s like the family friendship has come full circle. So running a car with Chassis No. 88-475, same as Gee’s original Emma, makes sense. And not surprisingly, success has followed. During Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, Earnhardt won the first race. Now it’s on to the Daytona 500.

“This car is a tribute to him and the Gee family,” Earnhardt said. “It makes me proud to drive it.”

Success always was a part of driving the original Emma, which was nicknamed after Gee’s mother. Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond, both early drivers for Hendrick, won with Emma. But the car, mostly known for its on-track pursuits, was more than just a bucket of bolts to those close to it.

“That car has a soul to it,” said Frank Edwards, who works in the Hendrick Motorsports show car department. “That’s one of the few cars I’ve ever seen that you just have a different feeling about it.”

Edwards, 72, was one of the five original employees at Hendrick Motorsports. He can remember when Gee and Hendrick were first getting started. Hendrick owned car dealerships and agreed to sponsor Gee’s car. Gee was the body man, and he would spend all afternoon working on one aspect of the car. Everything had to be just right. There were no exceptions. While he worked, young Eury watched, soaking up as much as he could.

Gee was Earnhardt’s maternal grandfather, and Earnhardt might not have spent as much time hanging out in the shop as his cousin, but he still inherited a good deal of Gee’s perfectionism and attention to detail.

“Dale’s just picky, and he got that honest from Robert,” said Tony Bunnell, who works in Hendrick Motorsports show car department and worked on the original Emma. “He didn’t get that from the Earnhardts. He got that from the Gees.”

Gee’s perfectionism was balanced by his witty, dry humor. In the shop, he worked hard and was named body man of the year several times for his efforts. When he traveled, he could quickly become the life of the party. And when he dealt in business, he always kept his word. Hendrick always saw his share of the deal money when the duo competed.

Gee passed away in October 1994. It was race weekend in Charlotte, and both Edwards and Bunnell believe he waited until Monday so he could watch one last race. Edwards and Bunnell both agree there never will be another Emma.

“It won’t mean what the first one did,” Edwards said.

But they admire the tribute and recognize the strong family ties that bring Gee’s grandsons and Hendrick to this new chapter in their lives. 

“It’s like a lot of things that Dale Jr. does,” said Michael Myrick, another longtime Hendrick Motorsports employee. “It’s paying attention to the old school and paying tribute to the old school, but doing it in a new school way.”

This weekend, Gee’s grandsons will put their version of Emma on the Daytona International Speedway.  The frame already has proven to be a winner there, but to put it in Victory Lane – especially in their first points race for Hendrick Motorsports – would be magical for Gee’s grandsons.

“This organization is and always has been about family, and now it’s like the family is all back together,” Eury said. “I hope we win with Emma. It would be a great tribute.”

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