Dale Earnhardt signed this hat hours before he died. Now it's a - | WBTV Charlotte

Dale Earnhardt signed this hat hours before he died. Now it's a gift to his son.

In May 1996, NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt signs a shirt being worn by Kary Kittredge before the 600 Festival parade in uptown Charlotte. (Credit: Observer file photo) In May 1996, NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt signs a shirt being worn by Kary Kittredge before the 600 Festival parade in uptown Charlotte. (Credit: Observer file photo)
CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) -

It was the last day of Dale Earnhardt's life, and he was doing what he always did hours before a NASCAR race: greeting fans and signing autographs.

Fellow driver Dale Jarrett spotted Earnhardt from his motorcoach, parked directly across from Earnhardt's at Daytona International Speedway.

Jarrett was getting ready to do hospitality for his new sponsor, UPS, when he decided to leave his motorcoach and playfully surprise his friend.

Jarrett joined the group getting autographs from Earnhardt and stuck out his new UPS hat, which Earnhardt signed without looking up.

"Dad stops to examine the hat after signing it because of the color and logo," his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., recalled in a series of tweets on Wednesday night.

"The UPS branding was an unfamiliar sight," Dale Jr. tweeted. "He looks up to notice DJ standing there and they both had a good laugh. DJ eventually went on his way, as did dad."

Earnhardt Jr. tweeted about the humorous encounter after Jarrett showed up at a studio on Wednesday with a gift: the UPS hat signed by his dad on Feb. 18, 2001.

Hours after signing it, the NASCAR legend had died in a wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Jarrett explained to Earnhardt Jr. how he'd surreptitiously gotten the hat autographed, Earnhardt Jr. said.

"Through the years after my dads death many drivers and industry folk were incredibly supportive, and that certainly includes Dale Jarrett," Earnhardt Jr. tweeted late Wednesday. "Today he gave me that hat my father signed all those years ago. It’s hard to know how to express my appreciation for his friendship."

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