Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the special guest for the entire hour of Tuesday’s NASCAR America, which was live from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Among some of the revelations Junior offered was how his father rarely gave him racing advice early in his career, and how his father left him in victory lane following his first NASCAR Cup win at Texas in 2000.
“Pulling into victory lane, seeing Dad, knowing he was there,” Junior said. “We had already celebrated a few wins with him in the Xfinity Series, but that was the first Cup win you just dream about, just making it to the Cup Series. Celebrating with Dad, I’ll never forget it.”
Junior related another story from that celebration when his father left early.
“I would fly with him, jump on the plane and go with Dad,” Junior said. “We won the race and he’s like, ‘I’m not sticking around for all this. You’re going to be another hour or two, so find a ride home but have fun.”
But before the elder Earnhardt left, he passed along some excellent advice to his son.
“He said enjoy this, make sure you let this sink in,” Junior said.
Junior also talked about being a third-generation champion, following in the footsteps of his seven-time Cup champion father Dale Sr., and his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt.
Junior admitted that when he first started racing, he not only had to work at everything, but also feared the prospect of having to race in his father’s shadow.
“If we showed the initiative and the will to do the work, he would help us out,” Junior said. “I wanted to drive. I remember racing go-karts for a while as a 12-year-old but I kept flipping out of the thing and dad didn’t like that, so he finally put a stop to it.
“He didn’t like that I didn’t have a roll cage or a seatbelt and I kept flying out of the thing. I asked him when do I get to race? He said the next opportunity you get to race is when you get your driver’s license. I couldn’t imagine waiting three or four more years to race. I’m going to go crazy waiting. I had to find something.
“I wanted to race pretty bad but I was really scared of racing in his shadow. I knew, even at a young age, that was going to be so hard. I was really nervous about that, not living up to everyone’s expectations. But it was not as hard, honestly, as I made it out to be as a kid.”
As for the little advice his father gave him, Junior understood why his father did that.
“The first half of my career, people would ask what was the best advice my dad gave me,” Junior said. “Nothing. The only thing I can resort to was there was one day he gave me racing advice. I was at Bristol (Motor Speedway). He gets up on his truck during Xfinity practice, got on the radio and told me where to lift and when to get back on the gas. It was not where I was thinking. He said, ‘lift at the flagstand.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, this is way better.’ I was driving it way too hard and making it much harder than it needed to be.
“That was the only time he ever did anything like that. We never talked about the draft, being calm, taking your time, pace yourself, we never did any of that. Any time I asked him questions, it would always ended up going somewhere else and always wound up being more about life lessons, having your head on straight and showing initiative and appreciation.
“He wanted to see me working my guts out for it, and that would spur him to be involved and start to give me that advice. But he wasn’t just going to hand it over.”