|Credit: Darryl W. Moran Photography|
Earnhardt was the reason I stayed in NASCAR once I arrived. He was already a champion when I tuned in to the season finale at Atlanta in 1990, a fact I did not know at the time. Pre-race news and interviews told me that Earnhardt had to accomplish a lot within the race to capture the championship – he was, to me, the underdog.
Of course time and history taught me perspective about that race, but I didn't need that at the time. By the time the checkered flag fell and Earnhardt hoisted the Winston Cup in victory, I was an entrenched fan regardless of what led up to that triumph.
Whereas other drivers have loyal fans, endless stories, and great respect for their drivers, Earnhardt fans are a breed unto themselves. Vast in numbers, devoted to a fault, and cohesive in their fandom to the end, they're legion in the world of NASCAR.
Some who don’t follow NASCAR do not understand my loyalty to a man who died over a dozen years ago. Devotion to a racecar driver who was blatantly Southern, unabashedly fierce, driven, and determined, seems foreign to my Yankee friends who aren’t NASCAR fans and never experienced the likes of Earnhardt.
But once you’ve experienced Earnhardt he’s with you forever. He seeped into your soul, raced through your blood, and won your heart. He had supporters and detractors and that never changed after his death. But Earnhardt’s presence was grand.
On this day, which would have been Dale Earnhardt’s 62nd birthday, I have the great opportunity to share why I not only love NASCAR, but Earnhardt himself.
|Credit: Darryl W. Moran Photography|
From his characteristic mustache, grin, and eyes to his magnanimous reputation, from his love story with his last wife to his joyful exuberance with his children, Earnhardt was both Everyman and The Man.
In addition to being a champion racecar driver, he was an avid good ole boy hunter, a responsible farm owner who was more comfortable in his work jeans or driver’s suit than any other clothing. He was a man who loved to joke and laugh, and as such, people related to Earnhardt.
I loved to watch him race, loved to watch his pre- and post-race interviews, and loved to wear his gear. Once we lost Dale I had to walk away from the sport, regroup as it were. It took years and the realization that walking away only hurt more to bring me back. At least in the NASCAR community – the NASCAR family – I was able to heal and remember Earnhardt with gladness in my heart.
And there is gladness. Many I work with nowadays were too young to remember Earnhardt on the track. Of course, they know who he was, but had no first-hand experiences watching Earnhardt race. That saddens me.
By writing about Earnhardt I feel we keep his inner core alive. We feed the souls of those left hungry for word of their driver, their hero, their friend. My brethren and I connect over Earnhardt stories. We grow closer through our admiration and respect of Earnhardt in these years since his passing.
Earnhardt will live through the generations as a legend. He earned the right.
The myriad reasons I love NASCAR are varied but can all be traced back to one man – Earnhardt. Every notion I have, every comparison I make, and every memory I hold leads back, to some degree, to Earnhardt. I make no apologies for this. He deeply influenced me and inspired me endlessly.
I’m so happy I found my way back to NASCAR. I enjoy the sport, root for the drivers, and enjoy the NASCAR family of which I have become a part. But not for one moment do I forget that the reason I am here, the reason I stay, and the reason I write; it is all because of Earnhardt.
Dale Earnhardt is the reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.