Forever linked to his legendary father in more than name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has nonetheless carved out a name and persona of his own that has transcended the NASCAR circuit and is even felt in the inner city, where it is not uncommon to see a few tributes to his Budweiser No. 8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Super Sport.
Having inherited his late father’s indomitable competitive spirit, Dale Jr. quickly earned the respect of his fellow drivers and NASCAR fans for his merits on the track. Also, the manner in which he dealt with the tragic death of his father (at the conclusion of the 2001 Daytona 500) revealed a sensibility that many people, young and old, embraced.
“Well, he was my idol, and I wanted to race and he was the best in my eyes,” Dale Jr. said. “He was a pretty intimidating guy. You weren’t scared to talk to him…but he was real intimidating. You knew it was a steep hill to climb to be like him, but it was worth a try.”
Dale Jr. remembers attending his first race in 1982, at a time when NASCAR was very rough on the edges. “I just remember, looking back now, how barbaric and simple it was, and how unorganized the sport was,” he said. “The crowd was insane and everybody dressed funny…it was the ’80s. However, things are very uniform now.”
Dale Jr. will be the first to admit that when he first got into the sport, all he wanted to do was race the hell out of his car and raise hell in general. His life consisted of partying with his friends and racing on the weekends.