With former sports car champion Andy Pilgrim, there’s always a memorable tale to tell from his decades in motor racing.
Among the most famous chapters in a career that spanned four decades, the Briton was chosen to lead Corvette Racing’s incredible Rolex 24 At Daytona crossover as the Earnhardts joined him in the No. 3 C5-R for their first endurance race.
Pilgrim’s profile exploded in an instant. A lifetime spent as the pro’s pro in sports cars had generated tons of respect, but outside the small circles of the burgeoning American Le Mans Series, or Grand-Am, Pilgrim was a mystery. Thanks to one man, a trip north from his adopted home state of Florida would change everything.
“In October of 2000 I went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr., because General Motors and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated were announcing we were going to race together in the 2001 Daytona 24 hours,” Pilgrim said.
“I remember sitting at DEI around all these journalists waiting for Dale to come in. He’d just won at Talladega the day before, so all the journos practically killed each other to get to him. I was just kind of hanging back and observing.”
Although they’d never met, Sr. had taken a liking to Pilgrim after watching the SPEED Channel’s broadcast of Petit Le Mans.
“I hear Dale say ‘Where’s Andy?’ to one of his guys and they point me out to him,”Pilgrim continues. “He comes over with all the media glued to his hip, and with a monster handshake and big smile, makes me feel like I’m his long-lost brother or something. He then turns to all the journos and in a loud voice says ‘Do you guys know who this is?’ At this point I’m thinking this could be a bit embarrassing…”
For a guy who came to the United States after getting a job as a computer programmer, who happened upon an SCCA Autocross and discovered his talent for driving, the improbable career arc unfolding at DEI bordered on the surreal. As a man who often views himself as the central star in a life-long comedy, that day in Charlotte will never lose its humor.
“A little voice from the back squeaks out, ‘Isn’t that Pilgrim, Andy Pilgrim?’ Dale fires back, ‘Yes, it is,” Pilgrim said. “Did you guys see the pass this guy made at Road Atlanta a couple of weeks ago? Let me tell you, that pass was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever seen…’
“During these few seconds I had an epiphany: As I looked at this scene at DEI and said to myself, ‘you’ve got to be kidding, I’ve got Dale Earnhardt doing PR for me right now!’”
Pilgrim, the Earnhardts, and Kelly Collins would go on to finish fourth overall in the race. The sister No. 2 Corvette captured the win.