Wednesday, March 12, 2008

So Long, Dale Jarrett

Sunday, we will say "So Long" to a driver that has been driving since before many of us even began watching Nascar. His last race, as was his first, is at Bristol. It's a very fitting place to end a legendary career. I'm speaking of course about Dale Jarrett, or DJ as he is often called.

Dale came into the sport with a racing pedigree. His father is Ned Jarrett, a 2 time Grand National champion, which is what today's Sprint Cup was way back in the day, before Winston came along. Dale is a champion as well, winning the Winston Cup in 1999. Ned and Dale are one of those extremely rare father and son combinations that can claim the highest award in Nascar's most elite series. As a matter of fact, the only other such father/son combination to do so is Lee and Richard Petty.

DJ has won the Daytona 500 3 times in his career. He has 32 total wins in the Cup series, as well as 11 wins in the Busch series and even has 2 IROC wins to his credit. Sunday will mark his 668th and final start in the Cup series. Dale will then follow his father again in a new career: Broadcasting.

Dale has already called some races for ESPN, and has done an extraordinary job so far. So well, in fact, that he has replaced former driver Rusty Wallace in the booth for the Nationwide races this year. I like Rusty, but in my humble opinion, Dale Jarrett is a vast improvement.

Dale has long had a reputation among his fellow drivers as a clean driver. In his career, he has seldom charged to the front early in a race and fought off the challengers. Dale's style has usually been to hang back around the back of the pack, and let the others do the wrecking. When the time is right, he's still got a strong car and is ready for his push to the front. As was seen at Atlanta last week, he may be on the verge of retiring, but he's not afraid to fight to protect his track position. On the white flag lap at Atlanta last week, Dale tried gamely to fight off being lapped by Kyle Busch. This 'old man' has still got a lot of fight left in him.

Dale did not even have to be a racer to make a living. He is and was a great golfer, and before he got behind the wheel, he actually considered a career in the PGA. I imagine he would have been a champion there, if he had pursued professional golf.

Dale has always been a tenacious racer, but he's also always been known as a gentleman. For those of us who were watching Nascar at the time, I doubt any of us will forget his dad calling him home to the checkered flag in the 1993 Daytona 500. Ned was in the booth, and his son won racing's greatest race. What a moment that was. A lot of people actually thought that Ned was acting as his son's spotter during the last lap of that race. In truth, Dale couldn't hear his dad, but he had learned so much from Ned that he did virtually everything that his proud poppa was saying he should do. That was one of my favorite moments in Nascar history.

Dale has always been a gentleman doing interviews, but he has never been afraid to express his opinion. Even right before his last race, he has been critical of the Goodyear tires used at the Atlanta race. Jumping on the bandwagon of Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., etc.? Not at all. Dale didn't think the tire worked well, so when asked about the issue, he expressed his honest opinion.

Dale Jarrett has won in both Ford and Chevrolet, but the bulk of his wins were with Robert Yates Racing. First in the famed 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford, and then later in the Quality Care/ Ford Credit #88. Finally he won several races in the 88 UPS Ford. DJ has also won in the 21 Wood Brothers Ford, which was actually his first win, and in the 18 Joe Gibbs Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, one of which was his first Daytona 500 win.

Dale Jarrett, I want to congratulate you on your fantastic driving career. You are a true winner and champion. I'm looking forward to hearing you in the booth at ESPN and ABC this year, and far into the future. Your dad was a favorite of mine as a broadcaster, and you, no doubt, will be too.

As a matter of fact, you already are a favorite of mine, DJ. Go with God on Sunday, Dale. I will be pulling for you.

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