BRISTOL, Tenn. — As he kicks off his 48th and final season of sprint car racing, Jac Haudenschild will be back behind the wheel of, perhaps, his most iconic colors ever.
Unveiled Thursday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway in advance of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series Bristol Throwdown, Haudenschild will carry sponsorship from Pennzoil during his farewell tour with Rico Abreu Racing.
The scheme is reminiscent of the look Haudenschild carried when driving for car owner Jack Elden during the 1990s, and “The Wild Child” will also utilize the same car number — Elden’s No. 22.
It’s a fitting throwback for one of the most legendary sprint car drivers of all time and Thursday’s unveiling was made even more special because Haudenschild had no idea it was coming. The car came straight from California to Bristol and was kept out of sight from its driver.
“That was pretty cool,” Haudenschild said after the car was rolled out of the trailer. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. He (Abreu) kept that a good surprise.”
“This is all for Jac, man,” Abreu added. “This is a special moment for sprint car racing. We were just thankful for the opportunity to bring a company like Pennzoil back into this side of the sport. It’s an iconic car and I just really thought it was meant to be for Jac to be in the Pennzoil No. 22 this year. It’s the car that he ran for the longest period of his career … and it’s just a special moment right now.”
Abreu credited Frank Bolter — a businessman, marketing expert, former NASCAR spotter and the founder of mobile pit pass app Pit Pay — as the driving force behind landing Haudenschild’s Pennzoil backing for this season.
“Frank helped build all this up. He was a key part of making this partnership (possible), as well as my Rowdy Energy partnership,” tipped Abreu. “He is the man. He actually spotted for me a few times in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series and the K&N (Pro) Series, back when I got my first win at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway. I’m thankful for Frank and his energy to keep grinding on these things.
“These partnerships are hard to come by nowadays and he’s the one that made this all happen for us.”
In Bolter’s eyes, wheeling a Pennzoil No. 22 sprint car was “the only way” for Haudenschild to wrap up his Hall of Fame driving career.
“To me, that was the only way that he should finish things off,” said Bolter, who was on hand for Thursday’s unveiling. “Through the idea of Rico, I realized I had a contact with their (Pennzoil’s) agency … and we told him the story and educated them on Jac’s history with Pennzoil.
“That was a long time ago, long enough now that no one’s still with the company that even remembers that, but they loved the story and that kind of pulled it all together.”
Haudenschild became one of sprint car racing’s legendary drivers during his original stint behind the wheel of the Pennzoil-backed, Elden-owned No. 22.
In 1993, the first year Haudenschild and Elden teamed up, the Wooster, Ohio, veteran drove to a $100,000 victory in the inaugural Historical Big One at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
He added a pair of Kings Royal triumphs at Eldora in 1994 and ’98, as well as a $50,000 Gold Cup Race of Champions score at the wheel of Elden’s iconic mount.
Haudenschild’s best World of Outlaws season with Elden came in 1995, when he finished as runner-up in the standings to Dave Blaney on the strength of four victories.
Asked if he had a favorite memory from his time driving the original Pennzoil car, Haudenschild admitted “there’s so many,” but added he hopes to have a few more special moments this season.
“I’m hoping we have a few more moments in us,” he said. “I’ve got to perform, but you know, I still feel pretty good. Last year, I felt pretty good. So I’m looking forward to running with Rico this year.”
The original plan was for Haudenschild to pilot a Rico Abreu Racing entry in select races, with a somewhat heavy schedule in California.
However, Abreu revealed Thursday that Haudenschild and the Pennzoil No. 22 will run “about 30 races” this season, including some of the biggest shows in sprint car racing.
“We plan to take Jac to the Kings Royal, the Brad Doty Classic … we’re going to go to Eldora in May, we’ll do the Ironman (55) in Pevely, Mo., and a few other big races,” Abreu said. “I look forward to seeing this car on track and, hopefully, in the winner’s circle. That’s the ultimate goal.”
In Haudenschild’s eyes, however, it’s an honor just to return to his legendary colors for one more year.
“It’s really, really special to be able to do this,” he said, emotion evident in his voice. “This is cool.”
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series will test at Bristol Thursday night before two full programs take center stage on Friday and Saturday night at The Last Great Coliseum.
It’s the first time sprint cars have competed on Bristol’s dirt-covered high banks since 2001.