SONOMA, Calif. (June 23, 2017) - Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will step away from driving after the 2017 season, but the racing superstar will leave a lasting impact in Sonoma County thanks to a gift from Sonoma Raceway.


On the first day of NASCAR's annual visit to the wine country road course, raceway President and General Manager Steve Page presented Earnhardt with a unique gift to Paws as Loving Support (PALS) Assistance Dogs. In the spirit of Earnhardt and his wife Amy's passion for animals, the raceway will sponsor three Labrador Retriever puppies that will be raised and trained to help children with disabilities at home and in the community.


The puppies, dressed in capes embroidered with their names Dale, Junior and Amy, took NASCAR's 14-time most popular driver by surprise.


"I'd like to thank the track for their investment to make this happen. It really warms my heart. Amy is going to be excited but sad she is not here," said Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet. "We do love dogs and making a difference in people's lives. I'm excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing.


Donated by Micons Labradors and Fieldstone Labradors, the puppies will take part in PALS thorough training process, including time with incarcerated youth twice a week, before being matched with a child with a disability and his/her family as a service dog or placed with a professional as a facility dog.


PALS Assistance Dogs, located in Forestville, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the human/animal bond by providing specially trained dogs to help children with disabilities, including but not limited to Autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments. Some are placed with professionals working with children with special needs as facility dogs. In addition, Courthouse PALS dogs provide emotional support and comfort to victims and witnesses of violent crimes before, during and at the conclusion of a trial.


"PALS is honored to have been selected by Sonoma Raceway to help pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s incredible career by naming three of our service puppies-in-training Dale, Junior and Amy," said Nancy Pierson, president and chief executive officer for PALS. "This lasting legacy will enhance the quality of life for children with disabilities and their families in the North Bay for many years to come."


In addition to the puppies, Earnhardt Jr. was also presented with a custom-engraved six-liter wine bottle to commemorate his retirement.


"Dale has such a huge following among our fans and we wanted to find a way for his legacy to carry forward locally, well beyond his days as a driver," said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. "These three puppies - Dale, Junior and Amy - will make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people in the North Bay for years to come."


Race fans are invited to join the celebration of Earnhardt's final race in Sonoma on Sunday, as the raceway will distribute 10,000 "Thanks, Junior" hand-held fans on race-day. In addition, a highlight video will played during pre-race ceremonies and the #88 will be written in the sky by the Patriots Jet Team.


Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 will mark Earnhardt Jr's. final start at Sonoma Raceway; in 17 starts, he posted a best finish of third in 2014. The green flag falls on the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at noon with live television coverage on FS1.