I've been somewhat tough on Dale Jr. over the last few years. He's one of my favorite drivers. He has been since he's been racing. Like millions of other Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, I've been bewildered by his lack of points wins over the last few years.
In past lives, I've been a bit of a hellraiser, but tried not to be a lawbreaker. I understand the desire to celebrate life's small victories. Since 2001, Dale Jr. has curtailed that habit quite a bit. So have I. I'm a lot older than Dale Earnhardt Jr. so I should have learned that lesson a little earlier, but being me, it took a while.
For too long, the expectation has been there that Dale the younger would become Dale the older. That's simply an unreasonable expectation, and I've come to realize that. My dad is my hero, much like Dale was Dale Jr.'s hero. My dad fought in a war in Europe in the 1940's. Since I was born in the 1960's, I'll obviously never be able to duplicate that.
The death of a parent is a sobering moment. It was for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was for me. I lost my mom, who was the one person who I think ever totally understood me. She died on November 15, 2010. I was involved earlier with a marriage that practically no one knows about. My best friend and soul mate, next to my my mom, Laura, had died earlier that year. I'm keeping the exact date private, for reasons that are known only to Laura and me.
Mom and Laura defined my existence for a couple or more years, especially toward the end. I saw Laura dying, and there was nothing I could do about it. I loved her, took care of her, and tried my best to make her comfortable until she finally passed away. I did the same with my mother. Many more people were involved with both, and if you're reading these words, you know who you are. Laura died of lieukemia. My mom died of complications from Altzheimers. I was in a funk for a while. I tried to get out of it, but couldn't seem to.
A former boss and a friend from a company that I used to work for called me and offered me a job, which was good, since I'd been mostly out of work for the past year. Working made me feel good, and I'm still working there now. Today, I'm a reasonably happy guy, looking forward to new opportunities as they come along. I'm not totally healed from the year 2010, and I probably never will be, but I'm working on it. I have sad days, just remembering people who are gone now, but I'm alive, strangely enough, and I'm looking forward to being part of something again. When I went back to work, I had exactly $7.00. That was it. Thanks to Tim, Brian, Judy and all the others that made this happen. You were all a Godsend to me, though I probably didn't realize it at the time.
Dale Jr. had a landlord, a boss, a person mapping out his career, and a father when Dale Earnhardt died on February 18, 2001. Dale Jr. lost the most important person in his life. Dale was Dale Jr.'s hero. Dale Jr. was expected to fill his father's shoes
Think about it. Who could fill Dale Earnhardt's shoes? Kevin Harvick, who took over as driver for the team at Rockingham, never minced words about it. He's in the car, but he is not the answer to replace Dale Earnhart, who once drove the very same car Kevin was driving. Richard Childress, the owner of the team, wisely painted the car white and chose a different number. The 29 seems to have worked out pretty well so far.
Dale Jr. is his own man. He's got sucessful business ventures going on. Dale Jr. is a sucessful business man. He's a good driver. He takes care of his family. In other words, he's a good guy. To me, Dale Jr. is a good guy, leading by example. He took care of all the family he could. I'm trying to do the same.
I don't care if Dale Jr. ever wins another race. I've now walked a mile or two in his shoes, though without the media scrutiny that's had to endure. I couldn't imagine putting up with all that Dale Jr. has had to over the last 11 years. I would have faded out and become a recluse. Dale Jr. has soldiered on.
Give him the respect that he deserves. He's earned it.