Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, received North Carolina’s highest civilian honor on Tuesday from Gov. Roy Cooper: the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
Cooper presented the award to Earnhardt Jr. at the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce’s annual award ceremony and luncheon at Cove Church, near Lake Norman in southern Iredell County.
“Thanks for all you continue to do for our state!” Cooper later tweeted with a photo of his presenting the award to Earnhardt Jr.
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“What an incredible surprise,” Earnhardt tweeted. “Humbled. Congrats sis.”
The chamber also named Earnhardt as its citizen of the year. Earnhardt’s sister was unable to attend the ceremony, the Mooresville Tribune reported.
Earnhardt Jr. retired from NASCAR’s top Monster Energy Cup series at the end of 2017. He and his sister own Mooresville-based JR Motorsports.
In 2015, Earnhardt Jr. and his sister received a ceremonial key to the town of Mooresville. Mayor Miles Atkins presented the key in part for then-JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott winning the 2014 Nationwide Series title. They also were recognized for JR Motorsports having grown from just a couple of employees to more than 100.
Created in 1964, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is awarded to residents who’ve provided “exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina,” according to the award’s website.
Notable recipients have included poet Maya Angelou, NBA Hall of Famer and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, actor Andy Griffith and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Other NASCAR recipients have included drivers Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr.’s father, Dale Earnhardt, and team owner Rick Hendrick.