Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Living in the Shadows Yet Again: Why Racing the 3 Was A Bad Idea

2010 Daytona July NNS race fans three fingers We are going to try something a little different here on Skirts and Scuffs. Two of our contributing writers will be looking at one situation from both sides. Today Katy shares here thoughts on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win the the Subway Jalapeño 250 and her side of the debate. Rebecca will share her thoughts and her side of the debate tomorrow in what we are calling dueling posts. Please let us know what you think of the posts as well as the concept in the comments below.

I’ll admit it. I cheered. Maybe not out loud (because that would have annoyed my husband), but when the #3 Wrangler car rolled into victory lane at Daytona last Friday night, I felt a sense of nostalgia come over me.

For a brief moment I went back in time to the 1990s when the #3 was a regular fixture in victory lane. A time when a driver like no other wasn’t afraid to beat and bang, spin someone out, or drive through the grass to take the checkered flag. It was his win-at-all-costs attitude that endeared Dale Earnhardt Sr. to his fans. Whether you counted yourself among those cheering for the #3 each weekend or as one of those cursing him for putting your driver in the wall, it didn’t matter. At the end of the race, all you really wanted to know was where Earnhardt finished. Even those who disliked him respected him for what he had accomplished and how he helped to put the sport of stockcar racing on the map forever.
2010 Daytona July NNS race Dale Earnhardt Jr finish line

Then WHAM! It hit me like a ton of bricks. The sense of nostalgia was gone.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed out of the #3 in Victory Lane and snapped me back into reality. It wasn’t The Intimidator who had piloted the car that night. It wasn’t a racing legend come back to life. It was a man with demons of his own who climbed through the window of the car. A man who has spent the entirety of his adult life trying to get out from under the shadow of his last name. A man who is most often seen as the son of one of the greatest racers to ever live, rather than as a talent in his own right. A man who is viewed as a failure by many because he doesn’t have the resume one expects from an Earnhardt. A man who, if he had any other last name, would be ranked among one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport rather than the most popular driver in the sport.

Don’t get me wrong, Earnhardt Jr. deserved to win that race. He had the best car that night and regardless of the number on the car he was the one behind the wheel. But, would it have been as moving or as meaningful had he been driving one of his own JR Motorsports cars? Would drivers have held back to let him lead lap 3 if he had been driving the 7 or 88? Would the media have said, “It was just a Nationwide race, who cares? He still can’t get it together on the Cup side,” had he won driving another car with another number?

Friday night's win wasn’t about Dale Earnhardt Jr. It wasn’t about him returning to a track where he has had success in the past. It wasn’t about him gaining momentum that could help him improve in the Sprint Cup Series. Friday night it was all about Daddy.

When interviewed after the race Earnhardt told ESPN, “I was so worried that I wasn’t gonna win…if you didn’t win it, what a waste of time.” Sure Earnhardt was proud of himself for winning, as he should be. However, when we look back on this race five years or even a year from now, we won’t say, “Remember that Nationwide race where Dale Jr. got his mojo back? You know, the July race where he won.” We won’t look back on the race and say, “Remember when Dodge and Ford brought the Charger and the Mustang to Nationwide and an old-style Chevy still kicked their butts?" What we will say is, “Remember when Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced the #3 Wrangler car and won? It brought back so many memories. Man, his dad was awesome!”

In all honesty I am happy for Earnhardt Jr., his fans, his family and his team for winning Friday night’s Subway Jalapeño 250. A win is a win regardless. On the other hand, I feel a sense of sadness for Dale Jr. The reality of the situation is that he’s always going to be compared to his father. He’s always going to be seen as the second best Earnhardt to race in NASCAR. Even with all his success as a driver, business owner and spokesperson, he’s never going to be his own man. Driving the 3 was great for nostalgia, but in terms of career choices, it was a bad idea. It only solidifies the fact that the shadow will always be there and nothing Dale Jr. can do will change that.

**A note from the author: This post is probably one of the most difficult I have ever written. Regardless of my personal feelings toward Earnhardt Jr. or Sr., I’m in no way attacking fans of either driver. I’ve said it in the past and I will say it again, (you can read that post here) Dale Earnhardt Jr. has the best fans in the sport in terms of loyalty.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect those of the site or other contributors.


Post a Comment