On April 29, I was reminded once again of Dale Earnhardt’s legacy as my timeline was inundated with pictures and memories commemorating his birthday. It has been 14 years since his passing, but his impact on NASCAR and its fans has not faded with time as some things do. Quite the opposite, the passage of time has only magnified his legendary status.
There is probably no other track where his shadow looms larger than at Talladega Superspeedway. He holds the record for most all-time wins with 10 and his son is honoring that tradition by following in his footsteps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his sixth win at Talladega Sunday, his first victory since 2004, and the emotion in his voice was palpable as he spoke about his dad.
“I feel like we have a lot of supporters here because of dad’s success. He won so many races here,” Earnhardt said. “And I love when we go to Victory Lane here because I just feel like I add to his legacy. All I ever wanted to do was make him proud, and I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful like Talladega, then that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
While Earnhardt Jr.’s driving style may often differ greatly from that of his dad, there was no doubt at Talladega that he is his father’s son. His teammates remarked on his unwavering determination.
“Dale Earnhardt Jr. was driving super-aggressive. You knew that he wanted to win this race badly,” Gordon said. “You certainly know all his fans are enjoying this show here. They love seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this race.”
Jimmie Johnson, who finished second, also noted how unstoppable Earnhardt Jr. was as the sliced his way through the field, saying, “He was most aggressive in traffic. He was relentless with a run. He didn’t ever choose to push the car in front of him. Every time he had an opportunity to advance, he took it. He created lanes up through the middle, swapping back and forth, trying to find a way past the leader. I was like, wow, go get it.”
Earnhardt Jr. also spoke about his personal life and his belief that his father’s legacy gave him opportunities that perhaps, he hasn’t always deserved.
“Everything is just so good for me right now in my personal life and my racing, the team I’m with,” he said. “I don’t know why. I don’t feel like I deserve this. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion.”
He went on to explain, “I think the part I feel I don’t think I deserve is the racing side of it. There’s just not many second chances. I feel like if my name wasn’t Earnhardt that I wouldn’t have had the second chance. I feel like I owe my second chance to my dad, his legacy, because the way I ran from ’09 through those years till 2011 or so, I feel I didn’t deserve to be kept around or hung onto”.
“But I’m glad that it worked out,” Earnhardt continued, “I certainly felt like in the right situation I could have success. But you just don’t know whether you’re going to get that opportunity. I watched a lot of sons follow a lot of fathers, regardless of the profession, and just have a real challenge of it. That is the part I feel like I’m fortunate about.”
Life is good for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and although he may sometimes question how he got here, his multitude of fans have no doubt that this is exactly where he belongs.