Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An end and a beginning: A fan's reaction to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement


Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
by Lacy Keyser, Fan Representative

When one door closes, another one opens. With the news Tuesday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring from driving, it sure felt that way. For 18 seasons, Earnhardt Jr. has played a valued role in the NASCAR. He’s a huge fan favorite and is the sport's Most Popular Driver.

Fans have to wonder: Now what? Where do we go from here? For some, he isn’t just a driver -- he’s their role model, their hero. Earnhardt Jr. has had such a huge impact on this sport as a whole; he’s carried the weight of the family name all these years.

For me, he wasn’t just my favorite driver. He made the sport for me. Now at first, I didn’t want to like him. After the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., I didn’t want to be a fan of another driver, especially one with the same name. It took me a few years, but I finally warmed up to the idea of being a fan.

Being an Earnhardt Jr. fan isn’t easy. You're always dealing with naysayers, who are always saying he’s just famous because of his dad. Comments like that always upset me. Why did it matter if we liked him? That was the whole point of the sport -- to cheer your favorite driver on, to watch him win.

Being a fan of Earnhardt Jr. meant you had to be strong. You had to deal with hateful comments, and you had to deal with disappointments. But all this didn’t matter because at the end of the day, we still had a great driver. We had a humble, respectable driver. Even when his team went winless or had bad finishes, it didn’t matter because Earnhardt Jr. never gave up, and we fans never gave up, either.

I feel my life got better once I became an Earnhardt Jr. fan. I went through a tough time losing my dad at 14, and at around that time, Earnhardt Jr. was going through a change. He was leaving the company his father built to go to Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR and Earnhardt Jr. became the escape I needed, and for that, I’m beyond thankful.

I owe a lot to Earnhardt Jr. He’s the reason I chose my career and education path, that maybe someday I’d be a sports writer or sports broadcaster. I’m currently working on my bachelor's degree in mass communications. So who knows -- maybe someday, I just might reach that goal.

I’m thankful for all the memories, for all the wins, all the tears I’ve shed and believe me, I’ve cried a lot. Dale Jr., I’m so grateful and thankful that I was your fan. I’m glad I wore 88 gear (and always will). I’m glad I went to races and saw you race. I’m so happy for all the memories. Even though I’m sad, I’m glad you were my driver.

Next season will not be easy. I don’t know who to cheer for now, or how to even watch a season without Earnhardt Jr. I don’t even know if I can watch. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I can even picture another driver in that 88.

The season isn’t over yet. So let’s go out with bang. Let’s win races, and maybe even a championship? Let’s not focus on the future; let's focus on the now. Once the season is over, then we can worry about the 88. But for now, let’s enjoy our favorite driver. Let’s cheer him on to victory. Let’s keep Junior Nation loud and proud.

This isn’t the end -- it’s only the beginning. The beginning of a new chapter in being a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

When one door closes, another opens. Let’s see where that door is leading.

1 comments :