HOF Revisited: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Talks Heroes, History and SuperstitionsBy Angela Campbell
I recently ran across an audio recording that I made in November 2011 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame for a fan question and answer session. Winston Kelley, the Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, hosted the event.
Dale Jr. was in rare form. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that he was more relaxed and confident than I had seen him in quite some time. He didn’t seem like a driver fulfilling an obligation. It was more like a conversation among friends and as usual, he left his fans wanting more.
Winston Kelley: “In addition to your father, who were the guys you looked up the most to, that you admired or wanted to be like? Who were the guys that were Dale Earnhardt Jr’s heroes growing up?”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I always liked Jimmy Means a lot. He was a driver and now is a car owner in the sport. His son was a friend of mine so we palled around the racetrack together every weekend. So I spent some time around Jimmy and watched Jimmy do what he did. I just admired how hard he worked and how dedicated he was to what he was doing.
Cale Yarborough was a guy that I thought a lot of, how he carried himself around the racetrack and how he handled his business.
I thought David Pearson was pretty cool but I didn’t really know him enough or get to know him well enough as a driver. But watching old films and old footage, reading and stuff like that, he seems like an interesting character.”
Winston Kelley: “When you did the “Back in the Day” show, you seemed to really enjoy the history of the sport.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I do. I’m sort of mystified on how the cars have changed over the years and how much they’ve changed. It really is interesting to me to look back at some of the older machines and wonder as a driver how they drove and how they went around the track and what those cars felt like when you raced with them compared to what we have today.
I wish that if I could go back in time I could race in the 70’s with the old Chargers and old Oldsmobiles and stuff like that. It would be a lot of fun to be a part of.
I think the sport was different then and simpler in a lot of ways but I definitely enjoy the history a lot.”
Fan: “Are you superstitious?”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I’m not really that superstitious. I believe in the typical things that your parents or your family teaches you when you’re growing up like breaking mirrors or stuff like that but nothing else.”
Winston Kelley: “Green used to be a really big deal. Was that something your Dad was superstitious about? You’re driving a green car now. It kind of started to go away with the Mountain Dew car.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I don’t think Dad was that superstitious but I’ve heard through my grandmother that Ralph Earnhardt was pretty superstitious about the color green and peanuts and stuff like that. They say in racing you’re not supposed to eat peanuts around the race cars. I don’t know why. Apparently at Concord Motor Speedway one night he chased some fellow off with a gun for eating peanuts around his racecar.”
Fan: “Whenever you’re racing, do you ever feel your father watching over you?”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I think so. I think you carry that with you all the time with everything you do. If I need to make a decision I’ll bank on what he taught me or what we talked about or if we ever discussed it before and try to make the right decision with his help. And I do feel like his spirit rides with me and keeps me safe.”