Monday, March 23, 2009

Inheriting a Name

General George Smith Patton, Jr. obviously was the son of a man by the same name.  In his case, the famous General Patton achieved most of the fame for which the "Patton" name is famous for.  Patton led and pushed his US 3rd Army across Europe in 1944 and 1945, and moved a tremendous amount of men and materiel, in the worst of conditions,  to free the elements of the 101st Airborne Division who were surrounded at Bastogne during what is now called the Battle of the Bulge.  General George Patton is a hero, not just to the US Army, but to the United States as a whole.  The man accomplished great things as a military commander, and some of that was because Patton was afraid of very few things in life.  The General was known as a risk taker, sometimes as taking unnecessary risks by his superiors.  He paid the price for that by being relieved of command more than once, but in the end, he proved to be the guy that is one of the best remembered for liberating Europe from Nazi Germany in World War II. 

There has been a phrase attributed to General George S. Patton Jr.:  "Take not council of your fears."  I've read that actually this phrase might be more accurately attributed to General Phillip Sheridan, who lived and served a full generation before Patton.  Either way, General Patton apparently believed in that saying.

What has all this to do with NASCAR, which I'm sure is the question you're asking yourself by this point?  It's easy.  Think about names like Petty, Earnhardt, Eury.  Fathers and sons.

Lee Petty was Richard's father, and he was a champion in his own right, before Richard Petty ever got behind the wheel of a race car.  Most casual fans of the sport today might recognize Richard Petty's name, but few will remember that his father was a great racer before him.  Richard went on to become the "King", with 200 victories in his career.  That's a number that will not be matched.  There are reasons for that, including the fact that NASCAR doesn't sanction Cup events 3 or 4 nights a week, as they did back in the '6o's and early '70's.  Back in those days, before the days of Winston, Richard might win 2 or 3 races a week at times.  The point is, today, nobody remembers who Lee Petty was, even though he was a great driver.  They mostly remember Richard.

And then there's Kyle Petty.  Kyle has won a few races in his career, and these days he's mostly known as the guy that started the Victory Junction Gang Camp.  Kyle is an all around good guy, and he says what he thinks, which is rare among drivers, or even former drivers these days.  Personally, I have to admire that quality.

Kyle actually started the VJGC in honor of his son, who was destined to be the 4th generation Petty NASCAR driver, Adam Petty.  Adam died in an accident at New Hampshire in 2000.  Unfortunately, tragedy and grief follow the sport of NASCAR, and of course we also lost another good driver, Kenny Irwin in 2000 as well.

In 2000, a young man named Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed his father footsteps into the Cup series, and was successful.  He won his first race at Texas, and followed that up with a win at Richmond.  He then went on to win the All Star Race at Charlotte, which of course, was named the Winston then.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on his way.  Or so it seemed.

On February 18, 2001, the man who had won 76 races and 7 championships died.  A lot of, but not all of, the fan base who used to support Dale Earnhardt transferred it's devotion to the son.  Some of that fan base supported Earnhardt's replacement, Kevin Harvick.  Some just went away and support other drivers, but most of that fan base suddenly became Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans.  Thus we witnessed the birth of the Junior Nation.  Dale Jr. already had fans, but this unintentional result of his father's death dumped a lot more fans on Dale Jr. than he had ever had before.

Is it just because of the name?  Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. certainly bears his father's name.  For some reason, no one ever held his half-brother Kerry to the same standards.  Kerry Earnhardt, who still works for the family company, and has a son, Jeffrey, who is becoming an accomplished racer in his own right, has never been held to the same standards that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has.

I certainly don't expect Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. to do what his father did.  They both grew up under different circumstances.  All I do know is that Dale Jr. is an entertaining guy, at least in my opinion.

And about Tony Eury Jr.?  Leave him alone.  He might not be the best crew chief in the field, but he's the one that Dale Jr.'s chosen.  If you're a Dale Jr. fan and can't get past that, then find another driver.  That's the law, according to Dale Jr., and if you don't like it, take it up with Dale himself.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may never win as many races or championships as his father has, but to me he's an interesting guy.  Interesting drivers are suddenly becoming too rare in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., my best advice to you is what General George S. Patton Jr. once said, or maybe it was Phil Sheridan:  "Never take council of your fears."

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