With Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway, thoughts of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his legacy on the sport of NASCAR are only natural.
Yet, in spite of his being gone for thirteen years now, with his fatal crash in the Daytona 500 in 2001, his legacy continues to not only live on but evolve significantly.
One of the biggest evolutions in the legacy of Dale Earnhardt Sr. is of course the return of his infamous No. 3 car to the track with Richard Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon behind the wheel.
Both Childress and Dillon were most mindful of their impact on the Earnhardt legacy as they made the announcement prior to the start of the season.
“I know in my heart, today, as I sit here, Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” Childress said. “He would want to see this 3.”
Childress also stated that he believes the return of the No. 3 car actually will serve to preserve the legacy of his friend ‘The Intimidator’ and will provide teachable moments about his place in the sport to new and the new and up and coming fan base.
“My hope is that Dale Earnhardt fans will be re-energized,” Childress said. “We are going to do our best to make them proud and I know Austin will.”
“I think the new fans will learn a lot about the great Dale Earnhardt by watching this.”
Indeed, the No. 3 car has indeed been the talk of the town during preseason testing, atop the speed charts at 195.109 mph when the rain finally stopped enough for the Cup cars to take the track.
An additional evolution in the Earnhardt legacy occurred this week with the announcement of the dropping of the Earnhardt name from the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates banner.
While Dale Earnhardt’s widow Teresa Earnhardt has not been involved in the ongoing operations of the team, it is unclear what, if any, her role is moving forward.
“It’s been an honor to have the Earnhardt name affiliated with our team,” Chip Ganassi Racing President Steve Lauletta said. “Dale and Teresa have done a tremendous amount for the sport.”
“We’ll continue to do business with those (DEI) companies,” Lauletta continued. “The relationship with Teresa and DEI was a benefit to the organization and we certainly want to continue to be affiliated with them.”
“But for our partners and for the way we operate the organization, we’re changing the brand to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.”
While the Earnhardt name may be going away at the Cup level, the legacy continues on with another team that is affiliated with that famous moniker, JR Motorsports.
This team, headed by General Manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller, daughter of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., recently announced their new up and coming driver Chase Elliott. The 18 year old will be behind the wheel of the No. 9 NAPA car in the Nationwide Series and will team with Regan Smith.
“This will be the strongest lineup we’ve put on the track since we started racing full time in 2006,” JRM General Manger Kelley Earnhardt Miller said. “He’s that good.”
Another major evolution in the Earnhardt legacy occurred this week as well, with the announcement that NASCAR’s most popular driver and reigning Earnhardt heir Dale Junior will be losing his crew chief Steve Letarte in 2015.
NBC Sports made it official that Letarte will be joining the network in the broadcast booth, leaving the pit box of Earnhardt Jr. after this season.
“I had a pretty good understanding what his decision was going to be when I left Homestead, so I’ve had time to really wrap my brain around it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It was a huge shock at first, just for me personally.”
“I sat down with him and talked about it, the more it made sense and the more I understood his situation and I could put my own selfishness aside and kind of understand what was important to him and how this was good for him.”
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. is experiencing his own changes, the next generation of Earnhardts are experiencing their own evolutions on the track.
Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr., announced this week that he will be racing full-time in the Nationwide Series. The 24 year old driver will be behind the wheel of the No. 4 Chevrolet, teaming up with Landon Cassill, for JD Motorsports.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Jeffrey Earnhardt said. “This sport runs in my family, and it’s where I want to be every week.”
“Racing with Johnny and Gary and the guys will give me a shot at running well every week and adding on the experience I need.”
The final cog in the Earnhardt legacy evolution is another grandchild, however, this one is female. Twelve year old Karsyn Elledge, daughter of Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has been making her own name in the sport, racing her grandfather’s No. 3 in sprint cars with sponsor Nickelodeon.
“I didn’t get to meet him, but I know that it makes my mom and my dad proud that I run this number,” Earnhardt Elledge said. “I’ve only heard how great it was with this number and this legacy and I am excited to carry it on.”
Perhaps Dale Earnhardt Jr. summed up the evolution of the Earnhardt legacy best, as he discussed the changes in his own professional career including his crew chief.
“Life is full of change,” Junior said. “And we have to adjust and be able to move forward.”