Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Faith on the Frontstretch: Johnson Honors Earnhardt Sr. After 76th Win

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his 76th career Sprint Cup win at Atlanta, Feb. 28, 2016.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

The past collided with the present in Atlanta last weekend, as Jimmie Johnson notched his 76th win, tying Dale Sr. for seventh place on the all-time Sprint Cup wins list. Sharing a record with the man he respected, but never had a chance to race, was a sentimental moment for Johnson.

“ ... to have 76 and tie Dale Earnhardt Sr. is something I'm very, very proud of,” Johnson said. “I didn't have a chance to race against him, unfortunately, but today -- there's been a big void in my mind about not having that chance to race against him, and it was literally a handful of months away from having that opportunity. So to tie him today, for myself personally, it gives me a little something -- it's a little bit of attachment to the great Dale Earnhardt, and something I'm very proud of.”

Feeling an attachment to someone from the past -- whether it’s Earnhardt Sr. or a loved one from our own family -- can ground us and help us remember what’s important. We’re reminded of the lessons that person taught us and the strong bonds that live on among those who knew him.

Johnson recognized the impending link between his own accomplishments and his teammate’s family history. Months before his 76th win, Johnson made a point of connecting with Dale Earnhardt Jr. to acknowledge the approaching milestone and its association with Jr.’s father.

“So I just made sure that I spoke to Junior a little bit, and he shared with me that he really feels like his dad would have had a ton of respect for me and would have enjoyed racing against me, and we would have had a great friendship,” Johnson said. “ ... and with the confusion of how overtime works, I kind of forgot that that win was 76, and then it hit me after I had taken the checkered flag and was doing my victory lap, so I had to come back around and certainly wanted to pay respect to Dale.”

Holding up three fingers to show his respect as he cruised the frontstretch, Johnson recognized the man whose record he now shared. Seeing the symbolic gesture most likely tugged at the heartstrings of Earnhardt fans, as his record and Johnson’s merged.

In day-to-day life, your past and present can collide when something simple pricks your heart with a bittersweet memory. In fact, it happened to me this morning, over something as mundane as silverware.

I ate breakfast with an antique grapefruit spoon that belonged to my grandmother. Sitting in her breakfast nook as a kid, I watched her dig into half a grapefruit with that spoon on many a morning. It’s just an ordinary, not-so-pretty thing with a bamboo handle, but holding it put a lump in my throat. I’d love to go back in time to my grandma’s house, with coffee percolating, poached eggs on the stove and Grandma sitting across from me in her robe and slippers.
Credit: Beth Reinke  
Looking back on the past can make us sad about whom we’ve lost. I miss Grandma and her sunny outlook on life. She always pointed out the good in a person, whether it was her grandchild, someone from church or a student in her special needs class at school. My grandma showed people the love of Jesus by speaking blessings into their lives.

On Sunday, race fans felt nostalgic, too, as they remembered Earnhardt Sr. The record-tying win brought back memories of the man who could intimidate a competitor with a steely glance, yet encourage another with a kind word and a twinkle in his eye.

When we remember beloved folks from our past, it’s normal to be sad and to grieve. But we also have two choices about the future. We can dwell on what we’ve lost, or we can acknowledge and revere their contributions to our lives.

Johnson followed in Earnhardt Sr.’s footsteps by taking the checkers, and then honored his predecessor with a frontstretch salute. Likewise, I want to honor my grandmother by winning at life the same way she did – by blessing others with kind words.

Is there someone from your past you could honor today? Rejoice in the ways that person blessed you, and then pass it on.

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. ~ Proverbs 19:20
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“Faith on the Frontstretch” explores the role of faith in motorsports and runs every 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the month during the NASCAR season. Follow Beth on twitter at @bbreinke.

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for NASCAR fans. Or you can purchase the book in paperback & ebook here.

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