Dale Jr: “I had people wanting my autograph before I had ever done anything on the racetrack. That was very awkward and uncomfortable.”
He retired from the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. Now, Dale Earnhardt Jr is set to be inducted into the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I had a root canal earlier today. I was more worried about that than this induction,” Dale Earnhardt Jr stated.
“As soon as the show started, I got nervous and I didn’t expect that. Because I was wanting to prepare myself mentally and emotionally to not be selected. Because there was some really amazing candidates.
Modern Era Nominees: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Neil Bonnett, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Harry Gant, Harry Hyde, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd, Kirk Shelmerdine and Mike Stefanik.
2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer (Pre Modern-Era).
“When my name was chosen, it’s really emotional. Because I feed off of affirmation. That affects me heavily in the work place and my home life.”
Dale Jr: Legacy
Dale Earnhardt Jr ran 631 NASCAR Cup Series races and collected 26 wins in the process. He also won back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series championships in 1998-1999 in the only two full-time seasons has ran with the division. But, he never won a NASCAR Cup Series title, with a best finish of 3rd in the 2003 standings.
“I know my numbers, I know the wins and the lack of a championship. And, I feel like I was chosen off that but also on the impact off the race track and being an ambassador for the sport.”
“I didn’t take that seriously, early in my career. It was just about me and I want to have fun, I want to race. As I got older, I started to think about the help for the sport and what I could do to make sure that the sport was better every day.”
“There was a point in my career where I started to think, ‘Ok, I’m not going to win 7 championships. I’m not maybe even going to win one championship. I’m not going to win 100 races, I might not even win 40 races.’ “
Fans wanted Dale Earnhardt Jr to be his Dad; He craved his own path instead
On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt Jr lost his father in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. And millions of race fans lost their favorite driver. Those fans found Little E as their new favorite but they wanted him to be someone he wasn’t.
“I mean, there were a lot of people that wanted me to be Dale Earnhardt,” Dale Jr stated.
“Not just be the Intimidator but they wanted me to be as successful as he was and drive like him. Aggressively, spinning people out and all those things. Whatever they thought Dad was, that’s what they wanted me to emulate.”
“When I realized that I’m not going to be able to win those races. I started to think of what I could do outside of that. What could I do to help the sport and be a good ambassador for the sport?”
Pushing NASCAR beyond it’s typical coverage
“I’m pretty happy with that part of my career when it comes to the impact I had on the sport. Considering, I didn’t have the success that my father had, but I was able to move the needle a little bit in the mainstream media.”
“Doing stories with Rolling Stone early in my career. That introduced me to things outside of our NASCAR bubble. Going on MTV Cribs or introducing a band at the MTV Awards. Those are terrifying things to do for a young kid.”
NASCAR was looked down on, for years. The Southern sports was left of a lot of entertainment opportunities and promotional options, until Dale Earnhardt Jr opened the doors for the sport.
“When we would do those things, we would get affirmation from it. People would say, ‘Man, that’s crazy-great that you would get to go into those places, NASCAR typically doesn’t get to go.’ ”
Bringing new fans to the sport
“We were creating a lot of new fans. I always thought it was something important to me — I gained a ton of fans because of who I was, right out of the gate. I had people wanting my autograph before I had ever done anything on the racetrack. That was very awkward and uncomfortable.”
“But, I knew when Dad died, I was going to assume if not all, most of his fanbase. I was able to take that — And I feel like I took care of that. Didn’t ruin that and I grew that base. Therefore introduced the sport to a lot of people who had never heard of Dale Earnhardt in the first place.”
“I would be very sad if 50-150 years down the road, if NASCAR’s irrelevant and nobody even remembers what happened. It’s important to me that our sport survives and is strong, way beyond my life.”
“It’s important that people remember the mark I left, maybe even more so, the mark my father left. All those wins and championships won’t matter if the sport’s gone. So, I feel like I had a good role in that.”