Kobe. Jeter. Manning. Tiger? I could go on and on about some of our childhood heroes exiting the game lately. We have lost many baseball, basketball, and football greats the past couple years, and now we are losing arguably the most popular driver in NASCAR history. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced he is retiring at the end of the 2017 season.
It’s not necessarily a large surprise that Junior is retiring. He has been racing for 18 seasons and has logged over 600 races. He’s a 43-year-old man who has battled with severe concussions, almost permanently sidelining him last year. He has battled with a sport that killed his own father just a few feet away from him. It’s a dangerous and overbearing lifestyle that seems to have finally taken its toll on Junior.
Earnhardt Jr. has won 26 races in his career and gone to the playoffs eight times. And while his success on the track did not match that of his late father, he has been voted the sport’s Most Popular Driver a record 14 years in a row. Read that again. That is an impeccable accomplishment that I doubt any athlete will ever match in any sport ever. Junior is just such a damn good guy.
Junior, I want to thank you. My dad loved your dad, so it only seemed right that I loved you. I have more die-cast models of your cars than I can count. I even have old #3 AC Delco Busch cars. I have the Looney Tunes car. I have everything. I wore a red #8 hat every day growing up until my giant head outgrew it. I’d go to Richmond and Martinsville every year to cheer you on. I watched you win and I also yelled some cuss words at Kyle Busch when he took you out in Richmond in 2008. You fill all my favorite NASCAR memories.
I know I’m not alone. You transcended the sport into a mainstream attraction. You brought in fans from all walks of life, of all different ages, from countries across the world. You are such a likable guy who I’m sure will have an extended career on television now. So while I may have shed a tear when I heard you won’t be behind the wheel anymore, I at least hope you won’t disappear from the spotlight forever. Thank you, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for all the joy you have brought this here redneck. Congratulations on an amazing career..
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