Earnhardt Jr. on track with dad for first time By Brett Borden MOTEGI, Japan (Nov. 21, 1998) Dale Earnhardt Jr. can remember distinctly one of the first competitive ventures he ever shared with his father. Father and son were fishing, and...
Earnhardt Jr. on track with dad for first time By Brett Borden
MOTEGI, Japan (Nov. 21, 1998) Dale Earnhardt Jr. can remember distinctly one of the first competitive ventures he ever shared with his father. Father and son were fishing, and each caught a crappie that day that was worth keeping and mounting. Both were of similar size, but neither fisherman wants to see it that way.
"I remember those two crappie we caught," said Dale Jr. "And we still argue over which was which, 'cause one's a little bit bigger than the other. But I got a little bit better memory than him."
The younger Earnhardt got a chance to do something that he'll never forget Friday, going out on the race track for the first time with the man who shares his name, and his knack for winning championships. Earnhardt Jr. is fresh off his NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division title, while Dale Sr. has been crowned seven times in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Both practiced at Twin Ring Motegi in preparation for Sunday's (Saturday night in America) Coca-Cola 500.
"The feeling I got being on the race track with my dad was far better than winning the Busch Series championship," said Dale Jr. "The championship was special but this is different."
Father Dale Sr. agreed, and although Dale Jr. posted a faster time in the first practice session, the Intimidator says he was just baiting his son for a bigger catch - the race.
"It's an exciting deal getting to race Dale Jr. for the first time," said Earnhardt. "I practiced pretty good. I didn't practice hard enough so I could beat him. I wanted him to beat me today so he'd get a 'thinks he can beat the old man' kind of thing in his mind."
The two Dales shared the press conference stage after the first practice with Howard Jacobs, who runs Coca-Cola's motorsports program. Dale Jr. was asked what the opportunity was like racing against his father for the first time. He didn't miss the open opportunity to score one for his generation.
"Being a whole lot younger than these other two fellas sitting up here, it's a little bit different for me to have this opportunity," he said.
But all jokes aside, both father and son are thankful for this chance to reel each other in on the race track for the first time.
"I just hope we get our cars running so that we're the cars to beat, and hopefully he'll be the one to try to beat us," said the elder Earnhardt. "Because of Coca-Cola getting involved this whole thing happened sooner than it would have otherwise. This was a great opportunity for him to get a feel of what it would be like. He didn't expect to win the Busch Series title, but he did. Now he gets to see how hard it is to run in Winston Cup."
Dale Jr. says that his father has been a great teacher, in racing and in real life. "He's taught me a lot of things by watching him on the race track," he said. "But the things he's taught me off the race track have profited me more than the things I have learned on it."
When asked what it was like coming all the way to Japan in order to experience this coming-of-age experience, Dale Jr. said it might as well have been across the ocean.
"I think it's fitting - just perfect - because (racing my dad) is the craziest thing I ever thought would happen."
While the race does take place in Japan, both drivers had American tracks in mind when they took their first laps on Twin Ring Motegi.
"I think it's a great race track," said Dale Sr. "It's hard to compare to anything in Winston Cup, but turns three and four are tight like one and two at Phoenix."
"It kind of reminded me of St. Louis (Gateway International Raceway)," said Dale Jr. "But it's about twice as wide as St. Louis."
Perhaps Gateway is an appropriate metaphor for what is happening here in Japan. The rising son of a seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion is entering a new phase of his career, one in which he gets to make a name for himself.
Source: NASCAR Online