auto racing · friday feature

NASCAR Napkin Rings Revisited

By David G. Firestone

The tradition of giving special rings to teams that win championships in sports in the United States dates back to 1922. After winning the World Series, the New York Giants issued the first championship ring, and the trend has caught on. In the 1990’s a new form of this trend came in to wide spread use in NASCAR, the championship napkin ring.

I’ve talked about NASCAR banquet rings before. They just fascinate me. I’ve understood the significance of championship rings, who doesn’t. But I’ve never seen these kinds of rings before, where they were enlarged, and used at the banquet as napkin rings until I came across these NASCAR example.

These over sized rings were used as napkin rings for team banquets and then the attendees were allowed to keep them. They were awarded for winning a race, and designed in the same style as championship rings.

In 1993, he won the Daytona 500, the race came down to the white flag as Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt in what became known as “The Dale and Dale Show.” With his father Ned in the broadcast booth calling the race, Dale Jarrett won the race, his second career victory. His first, incidentally, came at Michigan in 1991, while driving by the Wood Brothers. This ring was made for the banquet. It shows some wear on the inside. The top is a traditional design, one side has a picture of Dale Jarrett, his signature and #18. The other side has a picture of the car sandwiched in between INTERSTATE BATTERIES RACING and JOE GIBBS RACE TEAM. The inside shows some wear in the form of spots. In 1994, he won his third race, the Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He won after an engine failure claimed Geoff Bodine and a late crash destroyed the cars of Ricky Rudd and Jeff Gordon. This ring, almost identical in design to the Daytona 500 ring was prepared for the banquet. The only difference is that the #18 in the center of the top of the ring is in yellow, as the race was sponsored by Mello Yello. The small spots on the Daytona 500 ring are present here as well. This next one is from the 1995 Coca Cola 600, which was won by Bobby Labonte. During that race, he started 2nd, led 85 laps, and his brother Terry finish second. It was his first Sprint Cup win, and is done in a gold colored metal, with Labonte’s image, car number and signature on one side, and an image of his car on the other side. It briefly spread to Roush Racing, where, at the 1997 banquet, these rings were issued to Jeff Burton’s crew for his victory in the 1997 Hanes 500 at Martinsville. During that race, he started 10th and led 92 laps. This silver ring with an enameled 99 logo, a Roush Racing logo, car logo and signature on one side, and an Exide Racing Team logo, and crossed checkered flag logo on the other side. In 1997, Texas Motor Speedway hosted their first race, the Interstate Batteries 500. The event saw Dale Jarrett on the pole and Jeff Burton winning the race. This proves my theory that Interstate Batteries was behind the rings. This pewter ring was prepared for the race. I haven’t been able to figure out if this is was used at a banquet, or was sold in the gift shop. But it’s nearly identical design and style is hard to ignore. Since Interstate Batteries was doing this for Joe Gibbs racing before this race, and then this ring was made for that race, there is no doubt in my mind that Interstate Batteries was the driving force behind that.   Above and beyond that, it makes sense that Jeff Burton’s team would do that, since at that time, they were sponsored by Exide Batteries, a competitor to Interstate. Exide had to have found out what Interstate was doing, and once Jeff Burton began winning races, Exide decided to join in the fun. It would also explain why there don’t seem to be any examples of any other teams making these rings besides Joe Gibbs Racing, and Roush Racing. 

Ok, now with that out of the way, let’s stay in 1997, and look at a new design that Bobby Labonte’s team was given. The 1997 Napa 500 at Atlanta was the season finale. Jeff Gordon won the championship over Dale Jarrett by 14 points. Bobby Labonte won the race. It’s the same design as the other rings, except it is made of pewter. The material change is very evident in that it shows scratches and more chips than their brass counterparts.   Pewter didn’t last too long, and they switched back to brass by 1999. By 1999, the rings were redesigned as well. The driver profile hasn’t changed, but on the other side, a new logo design takes over the car logo. The crest of the ring has a bigger #18 and a glaze around it, instead of a cheap enamel.
The silver color returned in 2000, which culminated in Bobby Labonte winning the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship over Dale Earnhardt. One of the four races he won was the 2000 Dura Lube / Kmart 400 at Rockingham. This brand new design was prepared. A new #18 panel was designed, with the sponsor panel unchanged. The crest has been redesigned with car color on the stone area, and bigger lettering on the front. 5 years later, in 2000, Labonte won the won the 2000 Dura Lube / Kmart 400 at Rockingham.  He started third, and led 134 laps.  This napkin ring was made as a response.

Also in 2000, Bobby Labonte UAW-GM Quality 500, again at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He started 2nd, and led 37 laps. This ring was given at the banquet to the attendees, it is silver, with an enameled Interstate Batteries logo on the top, Labonte’s name and car number on one side, and Interstate Batteries and Joe Gibbs Racing logos on the other side.

Next week, a vintage driver suit.

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