“Going Out on His Terms-Not Carried Out”
He’s leaving the sport as popular a figure as his feared father was.
He’s leaving it on different terms though.
Dale Earnhardt Senior died in his car, in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500, hit by Michael Waltrip jockeying to block him on the final lap. The head on crash into the wall, broke Earnhardt’s neck.
The Man in Black died instantly, and a black pall covered all of NASCAR.
The fans stood in silence for every race that year, raising 3-fingers, to salute Earnhardt’s #3 car, okn the parade lap..
No one ever forgot the style, the personality, the intensity, the success, nor the popularity of Senior.
No one will ever forget all the same traits, in Dale Earnhardt-Junior, who announced yesterday, his retirement at the end of the season.
Junior, voted the most popular driver 14-times in 18-years. A true professional, a businessman, an entrepreneur, and the fans man.
His daddy was fierce, that black #3, running down, running over, spinning people out, to get a victory. Senior was old-school, a real throwback to the early days of all things NASCAR.
Paint-swapping, fighting, wrecking, and winning.
Junior was more polished, less gruff, just as competitive, but more scientific.
But NASCAR racing is high speed danger. The sport has become so much more safer, post Earnhardt tragedy, but you cannot stop wrecks, nor damage.
Last years two violent wrecks early in the season, ended Earnhardt’s season. He spent 18-weeks on the sidelines, trying tor recover from scary concussions. He did, but he’s not been the same driver since.
The headaches are gone, the eyesight is back, the courage may still be there. But the edge, the bravado may not.
He’s never really let on if he feels like he did back in the day, when he was winning. A 38th place finish last week at Bristol, on the heels of 4-finishes 30th or worst, may have convinced him, it was time to step away.
The history books will write about Dale Senior’s 76-career wins. Junior has 26. .
They’ve been running the Daytona 500 since 1969. Senior won it just once before his death. Junior has won it twice.
Racing is about memories and snapshots for scrapbooks. When Senior won his only time in the Great American race, the pit crews of all 43-cars lined up to high five him as the made his way to Victory Lane.
When Junior won his first one there, the outpouring of emotion was equally amazing.
But the memory of the picture of Senior-slumped over the wheel of his wrecked car after the last lap crash of 2001, remains forever, as do the words of Darrell Waltrip at the end of the broadcast, “I hope Dale’s okay”.
Our memories going forward of Junior now should be the smile, the wins, the aw-shucks attitude, and a salute for getting out of the car, rather than be carried out of the car.
Dale Earnhardt Junior, going out on his own terms in a sport that loves him so much.