In honor of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, who died last month in a helicopter crash, NASCAR will produce a special tribute at the Auto Club 400 on Sunday.
A pre-race ceremony has been set up to honor the deceased, and the grass will be painted with No. 24, the digits Kobe Bryant donned for much of his NBA career. There will also be a memorial display for fans to write on, which will be sent to the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation along with a donation.
Several drivers are also doing their part to honor Bryant. William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, will have a tribute paint scheme featuring purple and yellow. Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota, is wearing purple and gold racing gloves and shoes that will be auctioned off for the Mamba On Three Fund after the race.
It is my honor to wear these this weekend as a tribute to #KobeBryant, Gianna & the seven other victims of the tragedy. Shoes & Gloves are on auction w/ 100% of proceeds going to the #MambaOnThree Fund. $5000 minimum will be donated. #MambaForever https://t.co/ZhO5zesLbr pic.twitter.com/jETB8G94SE— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) February 25, 2020
Ryan Blaney has perhaps the most personal tribute. His No. 12 Ford has been transformed with purple and gold scales, featuring gold snakes intertwined in an infinity sign with Gianna's No. 2 and Kobe's No. 24.
Honored that @drinkBODYARMOR is running a Kobe Bryant tribute scheme this weekend. I was fortunate enough to meet Kobe & this is a great way to honor him, Gianna & all the victims. Stay tuned for merch details and all proceeds will go to https://t.co/WdOVfr5mRk. #MambaMentality pic.twitter.com/UrtylAIsCK— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) February 25, 2020
The car was designed by Blaney's sponsor, sports drink company Bodyarmor. Bryant was both an investor and on the board of directors of the company, and Blaney met him through the organization. Blaney remembered that in those 20 minutes they shared, Bryant asked questions and tried to learn as much as he could about racing.
"Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great," Blaney said. “That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.
"It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”
Blaney gifted Bryant a fire suit that he had worn earlier in the year, and Kobe returned the favor, sending him a copy of his book, "The Mamba Mentality."