I have to own it. I haven’t paid much attention to it this year. Which is a little messed up considering it is his last year driving. And that he has been my driver for 18 years now. The reason I started watching NASCAR. The reason I’ve got boxes full of memorabilia (“shit” as my other half calls it). The reason I drank Budweiser for years. Then Mountain Dew. Even that horrible AMP shit. The reason I warmed up to the 48 and the 24. Which was huge.
The truth is, since he got hurt last year, I got more enjoyment from seeing glimpses of his personal life through their Twitter and Instagram accounts, than from watching races. He shared clips from his recovery process (TBI is no damn joke). She shared lots of candid shots of him, and Gus the dog. And it was in her pictures that you could really see it. Really feel it.
He was done racing. It was time. He looked happier, more at ease, more settled, than any fan had ever seen him. Even after some of those wins. He was happy then, but nothing like what her pictures showed. He looked like he was getting to live for the first time in his life.
Of course, his sponsors grabbed his new lifestyle and marketed the hell out of it. Nationwide and Hellman’s made some great commercials of “married life Dale”. You almost got the feeling that this third act of his career was going to bring that elusive title. Almost.
For me, hearing he and Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip call the The Clash at Daytona last February on Fox, I felt it in my guts. I knew right then that I was watching a preview of his third act. I knew my driver was headed for the booth. Soon.
And really, as with most NASCAR fans, you get really invested in your favorite drivers. Like, “Restraining Order” invested for some of us. You read every single thing about them on the internet. You feel like you know them. Like you just last weekend had burgers and beer with them. When they get hurt, you hurt. When they get mad, you rage. When they cry, you rage at whoever made them cry. They are yours.
Back in February, I told my daddy that I’d bet him a hundred bucks that Junior retired after this year. Daddy (an obnoxious Kyle Busch fan) said, “He may as well. He ain’t winning, and his brain has been rattled around too much.” I’m not sure where daddy got his neurology expertise from, nor why my driver’s noggin’ was rattled but his isn’t, but whatever.
So, when he announced his retirement, I was not in the least shocked. I was sad. Sort of. Like I said, I’d been enjoying he and Amy’s tweets and instagrams more than the races anyway. They are so happy and so invested in each other. Those are relationship goals right there, man.
And that Amy. Wow. That is an amazing person. She stepped into this “role” of NASCAR wife like a wildfire out of control. Playing Fantasy Football, driving the pace car, enjoying her wine, and managing this being that was Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. The guy that once said in a television interview that he was “the captain of his ship” regarding relationships. OOOOKAY RALPH.
He is driving the season for his fans, his team, his crew. Circa 2014 Dale Jr. doesn’t finish 12th and be happy about it. This man does. Possibly because he was advised by his doctors not to drive at all this year nor any other year (That is just my own opinion). But most likely because he is at peace, clearly, with his on-track accomplishments. This season is about his team, his crew, and his fans. This is his “Thank You”. His “Apprec88ion” tour. I’m not sure some of “us” deserve it. His fans can be a bitter as they can loyal.
For me, I’m good. Like I said, I enjoy getting small glimpses of his personal life through Twitter and Instagram. I was looking forward to the Key West remodel project before Hurricane Irma, and now there is a baby girl on the way. Those are the things I enjoy seeing him get to do and be now. He looks so happy, how can you not be happy for him? As humans, that kind of happiness is what we all strive for, I think.
As for my future in NASCAR, I like Ryan Blaney somewhat, so I’ll likely follow him now. He seems like good people. I’ll buy a hat. And I’ll follow him.
Not like Junior though. Never like Junior.
I added some random Google images to this. None of the photos are mine, and I have no clue who they belong to.