One loyal Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan may just be Earnhardt's good luck charm this year.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a breakout season in 2014, picking up three wins, locking himself into the Chase, and becoming a two-time Daytona 500 champion. A lot of this can be attributed to his race team and his inner confidence, but does Jr. also have a good luck charm? I thought this when I heard about a father and son that have shared all of Junior’s victories in person at the track this year.
Kyle and Robert Taraska from Woodbridge, NJ have been going to races together since 2001, when Robert took his son Kyle to his first race when he was just seven years old. Kyle and his dad are hard-core Dale Jr. fans and have been from the beginning. Prior to writing this piece, I took time to ask Kyle why he and his dad are such big Junior fans. This is what he told me.
When Dale Sr. died on February 18th 2001, it was the only time I have ever seen my dad cry
"My Dad was a huge Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan for as long as I could remember. Dale Jr. started coming up through the ranks in what was then the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now Nationwide) when I started to reach an age when I could at least somewhat understand the sport. So naturally it was cool for me. My dad and myself liked the father and son that raced each other each weekend, there was a cool connection there."
"When Dale Sr. died on February 18th 2001, it was the only time I have ever seen my dad cry. I still remember it like it happened yesterday. Dale Jr. kept my dad in the sport. If it was not for him, my dad would have probably stopped watching, meaning I would have lost interest too. At the young age of seven, we all make decisions based on our parents beliefs since we are too young to make decisions on our own."
"If we stopped watching NASCAR, then I would have missed some of the greatest days of my life. I owe a lot to this sport. I have made many friends within the sport and have been very fortunate. Nothing will ever top my dad wrapping his arm around my neck after Dale Jr. won this year's Daytona 500. We both cried. I've never felt closer to my dad than that moment this past February, and now we have gotten to share that moment two more times this season. It is scary to look back and think about all what we would have missed out on as a father son duo if it wasn't for NASCAR, and the fact NASCAR wouldn't be in our lives if it was not for Dale Jr. making laps every Sunday. It's like I owe it all to Jr. in some weird way. That's why I cheer for him so hard every weekend.”
Kyle got to meet Junior for the first time in 2008 when he had his childhood hero sign his race version diecast from his first Daytona 500 victory in 2004. Since that day, Kyle has been blessed to get to meet his Dale more than 10 times. At Dover in 2012, Kyle finally got to talk to Dale one-on-one. Something many fans only dream of doing.
0 for 60 to 3 for 5
When the 2014 season started, the father and son duo were at the track again for the opening races of the 2014 season at Daytona. They watched the Truck and Nationwide series opening events before watching the Great American Race together, not knowing they were finally going to get the chance, after 13 years and almost 60 races, to see the guy they pull for winning in front of their very eyes. Following Daytona, Kyle and his dad went to Richmond where Junior grabbed a seventh place finish and Dover where he ended up coming home in the ninth spot. During the weekend at Dover, Kyle and his dad gave a few gifts to Dale. One of the biggest things they gave him was an old sticker of his dads' from the 80's. Which led Junior to tweeting to Kyle about it.
The duo carried on their 2014 race trips with the Sprint Cup Series' first stop at Pocono. That Sunday, they once again had no idea that they were going to witness another special moment together. As race leader Brad Keselowski got trash on his grille late in the race, their hero Junior was able to pick up his second win of the season.
Last week, Kyle and his dad were back at Pocono hoping they could witness their hero pull off a sweep at Pocono and grab his third win. Once again, Junior did not lead a lap until 15 to go in the race and it looked like the duo was going to witness it once more. That is until a late-race caution with a few laps to go put them on pins and needles. As the green flew on the restart, Junior was able to regain the lead over a hard-charging Harvick and pilot his car to victory lane for the third time in 2014 in the presence of Kyle and Robert.
I asked Kyle what it felt like to witness his driver win all three of his races in person.
Worth the wait
“We were supposed to go to the Pepsi 400 in July of 2001, but my dad mixed up travel dates leading us to sell the tickets. We all know what happened that race, and I felt like that haunted me forever. My first race was at Pocono about two or three weeks after the Daytona race. Dale Jr. finished second that day to Bobby Labonte."
What made it even more special was I was able to share each and every moment with my father.
"Including that race, in my life I have seen Jr. finish second a total of eight times. It started to get frustrating not being able to see him win. Over a decade of attending races, over sixty in total, with the sole purpose to see one driver win, it just could not happen for whatever reason. It felt like a curse. But for some reason 2014 is different from the last thirteen years. And I am so grateful for that. It is a dream come true. Not only have I been able to meet my hero, but after waiting for over a decade, I finally got to see him win the 500. It was a mix of so many emotions, one of which being relief. It was so cool to watch him win the Daytona 500 and add two wins to his list at the track I consider my home track. What made it even more special was I was able to share each and every moment with my father."
Kyle and his dad are planning one last trip to a race in the 2014, as they’re going to go to the fall race at Dover. So Jr. Nation, I'd suggest circling that one on your calendar.