Dale Earnhardt Jr. inducted into Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first wish for his unborn child is that she’s healthy.
His second wish is that she’ll be born on April 29, the birth date of his father, the late Dale Earnhardt.
Certainly, to have his daughter share a birthday with her granddaddy would bring the family full circle.
“I’m excited, real excited,” Earnhardt said of impending fatherhood as he was inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame on Saturday. “The baby is due May 2nd and I’m pulling for April 29th, because that’s my dad’s birthday. But we’re just looking for a healthy baby girl. I can’t wait to meet her. Can't wait to hold her and experience all that with (wife) Amy. She’s incredible. She’s changed my life tremendously, and I know this little girl is going to do the same thing.
“I was nervous about the possibility of having a boy, because I felt like I would raise a little stinker. But Amy’s not about to let me screw up a little girl. I’ll get a little education on this first child, and then I’d love to have another one. If I had a son, that would be pretty awesome, too.”
When Earnhardt was asked the location of his wife’s hometown and he replied, Victoria, Texas, the crowd roared. He added Texas has become a second home to him as well. Although the couple calls North Carolina home, they spend plenty of time in the Lone Star State.
Earnhardt also sang the praises of Texas Motor Speedway, particularly the enjoyment he has experienced on the 1.5-mile track from his first win in what is now the Xfinity Series to his first Cup win here three years later.
Earnhardt commended the track for its capital improvements. He was particularly surprised how racey the surface is despite the application of new pavement last year.
“This was the most impressive thing I have seen from a track in all the years I’ve been in the sport,” Earnhardt said. “Last year, we had a repave and everyone knows how nervous the sport is—the drivers, the promoters, the fans get when we have a repave. What’s the racing going to be like at that facility for years to come?
“They did such an incredible job at this racetrack with the tire dragon and taking advice from the industry and giving us a racetrack where we could run side-by-side. That second groove was as good as it was before the repave. That was such an incredible commitment and accomplishment for the track. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of work or diligence put into an effort to make the racing so good not just for the drivers but for the fans. We’ve had a really good time on the track this year and it’s only because of their efforts.
“They have an incredible facility. Ever since I’ve raced here, the fans have really supported this race track, the community supports it. It’s a great stop on the circuit for us.”
It was fitting that NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton was on hand to receive the Bruton Smith Legend Award during the celebration. Helton, who was exceptionally close to Earnhardt Sr., and also mentored his son, weighed in on Junior’s contribution to NASCAR.
“Watching Dale grow up in general—but especially in our sport—has been a blessing and real rewarding,” Helton said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about what is your favorite Dale Jr., moment, and there’s actually two of them and they happened in the same year. The first one was in July, the Coke Zero 400 win in 2001. The whole industry needed a healing moment—and that was it.
“The second one was in the same year, but it was in September in Dover, when after 9/11 we had skipped New Hampshire. So we go to Dover for the first race back after 9/11 and Dale Jr., wins that. Again, we all needed a big healing moment and Dale Jr., helped us through.”
Helton would not speak out of school when it comes to telling tales on NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, however, he beamed when reflecting on the Earnhardt’s endowment to the sport.
“I have a lot of great stories that I’ll take to my grave, but I’m very grateful to have been in this sport, and to be friends with his father but to watch Dale Jr., accomplish so much and I’m so proud of him and Amy and Dale’s sister Kelley (Earnhardt Miller), who doesn’t get near as much of the respect and attention as she should get for all of her contributions.
“I’m sad to see him go, but I’m very proud that he’s going to stick around.”
Mike Helton's impact
Earnhardt was quick to return the compliment to Helton. Although Earnhardt had a tremendous support group following the death of his father in 2001, Helton was always just a phone call away.
“I can promise you I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this guy right here as part of the sport,” Earnhardt said of Helton. “He not only led a lot of us in the sport, he taught my wife and I a lot of personal lessons.
“When I lost my father, I leaned on a lot of people but I didn’t lean on anybody more than you. He’s really been incredibly impactful to me throughout my life. The sport has a lot of superstar drivers, but this guy here is a superstar. He’s not on TV, but he’s a superstar in this sport.”
Earnhardt said that, despite retiring from full-time competition, he wants to come to the track “next year and beyond with a purpose.” In addition to providing commentary in the NBC booth, he will continue to field four cars through JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series and even drive a fifth car on occasion.
Earnhardt would like nothing more than to leave Texas Motor Speedway with a bang—by firing off the celebratory six shooters in Victory Lane on Sunday. It would be fitting for him to cap off his last run in the Lone Star State with his 27th and final win.
“We’ve been kind of close here to winning over the last several years,” Earnhardt said. “And I’d be walking after I’m done with NASCAR by Victory Lane and you the guy who won the race shooting the damn guns—and I want to shoot those guns so bad before I leave here.”
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