Remembering his dad in his own way
Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR Scene
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t expect media in Daytona to
be focusing on the fact that his father died five years ago.
But virtually every driver who was around when Earnhardt raced
was asked about the seven-time champion’s legacy during
Media Day on Feb. 9.
hadn’t personally thought about it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Obviously,
I heard it mentioned a few times over the last couple weeks. But I didn’t
really … think that there would be a lot going on, a lot of tributes
or anything happening. … There aren’t too many other things that
you celebrate a fifth anniversary of. You know what I mean? I didn’t
think it was that big a deal.”
though, was larger than life, and, if anything, his aura has only grown since
Feb. 18, 2001, when he was killed in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Uncomfortable
while repeatedly being asked about his father, Earnhardt Jr. said in 2004 that
he hoped some of the questions would stop.
has passed, he says the questions have largely subsided. He makes it clear
he doesn’t mind talking about his father, though there are still occasional
questions he could do without.
OK to talk about him. I don’t mind talking about him,” Earnhardt
Jr. said. “But there’s some questions that are hard to – not
hard to answer, you [just] get tired of answering them. There’s no real
answer for them. And you probably could write the story without me even giving
you the answer because you probably know the answer.
don’t mind talking about him. I was proud of him. You know, I just don’t
know what it would be like if he was here as far as the company [Dale Earnhardt
Inc.] goes or as far as the sport goes. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine,
even with my imagination.”
are easier. Asked how he’d like his father to be remembered, he had a
want his legacy to be … to be sort of a John Wayne-type or a Clint Eastwood-style
legacy, that he did a good job,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “When he worked,
he did a good job. He’d give you everything he could give you. He’d
try to do his best. He was respected, well-mannered, treated people the way
he wanted to be treated.
know, he’s very similar to Clint Eastwood in how Clint was a great actor,
did a great job, was hard-nosed, started directing, has been amazing at that
and continues to maintain his personality throughout the entire process.”
the elder Earnhardt came to directing was starting Dale Earnhardt Inc., the
team for which his son still drives. One of the questions the son is often
asked is how the team would be faring if the elder Earnhardt were alive and
directing the team.
Jr., though, isn’t sure that his father would be much of a hands-on owner.
think he would have probably occupied his time with something else. He would
have focused maybe a little bit more time towards the team than he had while
he was driving,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But I think he probably would
have took the focus that he used while he drove and did something else with
that focus instead of [putting it] 100 percent towards the owner’s side
thing he knows for sure is that the team would be different if his father were
still alive. How so, he’s not sure. And he doesn’t spend a lot
of time worrying about it, since he knows it’s simply not an option.
in the limelight, his father’s death put even more fan and media focus
on Earnhardt Jr. Asked if it would have been easier had he been able to spend
the last five years in his father’s shadow, Earnhardt Jr. says he has
no idea how different that would have been.
was hard to be Dale Jr. when dad was around. Still [is] tough. [And it provided]
a lot of advantages,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I had a lot of fun.
Wouldn’t trade it for anything.
don’t really know how different that would have been. When he was around,
man, you knew he was there. That was tough. But I miss him a lot. Obviously,
he was – he could be a huge [asset] in a lot of things that happened
to me personally over the last five years.”