Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a race car driver for a much larger, far more worthwhile reason. He started racing to try to win his father's approval.
What other reason do you race for? Earnhardt Jr. once said.
You race for thousands of dollars. That's good. You race to win. That's good. Those are good reasons. But there's nothing wrong with wanting to make my Dad happy. A lot of people think it's bad that I race to make him happy or wonder that what I'm doing is not for me.
I'll get mine in the end.
He won two NASCAR races before Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona, making his father happy and proud.
And there was something even more precious that the son was at last sharing his with Dad.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was often distant from his family, emotionally as well as physically, as he chased his superstar career. Joining his profession was the only way that Dale Jr. knew he could get close to him --- at least as close as anybody could get to this intensely private man.
Tomorrow, a week after his legendary father was killed in a crash at Daytona, Dale Jr. soldiers on alone in a sport that brought he and his father closer and then cruelly put a distance between them forever.
Now, at 26, he is left to carry on and honor his Dad's name.
We've had to take some very deep breaths and get everything in perspective, and it's really been a difficult time, said Earnhardt Jr. on Friday, when he made his only comments since his father's death. The main focus now is to try to maintain and progress with the vision my father had with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
I miss my father and I've cried for him out of my own selfish pity, he said, soundly more like his stoic father. But I'm just trying to maintain a good focus for the future and remember that he's in a better place that we all want to be.
Earnhardt Jr. sat at a table with his red baseball cap on backward and orange designer sweatshirt. He still looked like the hotshot rookie who burst onto the NASCAR scene last season and won twice. But he struggled with sudden success, partying too much and letting his ego inflate. Everything has changed now, forcing Earnhardt Jr. to grow up.
You'd probably find that Junior's maturity level has escalated a great deal over the last week, said Larry McReynolds, Earnhardt's former crew chief. You'll now find him to be a man on a mission to go out and win races, to run for championships, and to be everything his father always hoped for.
Dale Jr. will have to first make it through this emotional race, the Dura-Lube 400.
Everywhere he turns there are memories of his father. Decals have been slapped on cars in his honor. Fellow drivers are wearing Dale Earnhardt caps or his Dad's famed No. 3 on their uniforms. Today, NASCAR will salute Earnhardt Sr. in prerace ceremonies.
Dale Jr. was here early in (Friday) morning and we went over there to talk to him. It made us feel better and I think it made him feel better, driver Kenny Wallace said.
Dale Jr.'s going to feel OK at times, and at times he'll feel like he's having a heart attack, said Wallace, who struggled with the death of his 2-year-old nephew some time ago. He'll be somewhere and think, Oh, my gosh!' That's going to happen. He'll never be OK. The days are going to be a little longer now.