Some fans were confused when, at the end of J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he included in his extensive list of shoutouts a famous Nascar driver to whom he had no public connection. Listeners were confused, but they latched onto the obscure reference; Cole says "Everywhere I go now--the airport, the store--people say, 'Yo, Cole, I love that album, bro, it's a classic! And [the shoutout to] Dale Earnhardt Jr., it's the first thing they bring up!" Now, ESPN Magazine has finally gotten to the bottom of bizarre friendship.

The unlikely bond was forged a few years ago, when Earnhardt revealed in an interview that he often listened to Cole's "Power Trip" before races. The driver first discovered the song on Pandora. "I found out Cole was from North Carolina," he says. "When you like a guy's music and you find out he's from where you're from, you tend to start to follow him."

Not only did Cole and Earnhardt bond, but they saw the same opportunity for their respective cultures. Agreeing that both rap and car racing are decidedly blue-collar, the two shared a vision for a more harmonious future. "It could change the world if they were to ever merge and really become friends," Cole said.

The story will appear in ESPN Magazine's music issue, scheduled to hit newsstands Feb. 2.