A Voice for the Fans ~ Vaya con Dios
I bid you welcome gentle readers, to a column I hadn’t intended to write… yet. As you’re all aware of by now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared some news with us on Tuesday morning. This will be his last season as a racecar driver. The resounding echoes of that single statement are still murmuring throughout the racing world, and more so through “Junior Nation”, that massive chunk of race fans as a whole that adopted Junior upon the death of his dad and have clung to him ever since.
Because I’m me, and it’s what no one pays me to do, I spent all of Tuesday reading, listening to and talking with a number of members of said Junior Nation. Early in the day, I was amazed and disappointed by the selfishness and downright possessiveness of a few, though thankfully, not all. Some took the news as some sort of personal affront. Their lives were coming to an end, having lost all meaning if that one man weren’t out there on track every Sunday for their pleasure, and theirs alone.
By the end of the day, common sense and the good judgment of many folks known to me, and some who were complete strangers, was taking over. Most of Junior Nation was discussing his news rationally, though still perhaps too willing to plan the rest of his life for him.
The future is out there for a reason. It is not ours to know until its moment arrives, and only then will the veil be lifted and the future seen as it becomes the present. To all of my gentle readers, I would ask you not to over-speculate, though I know it’s tempting. Hey! You might even be right about one thought or another, but chances are you’ll be wrong more often than right. I’ve already been asked things such as what I think he should do next, who I think will replace him and why.
Allow your scribe to tell you, from the very bottom of my heart, that no one… no one ever replaced his father, and never will. Likewise, when Junior steps out of the car, no one will “replace” him either. Instead, as Kevin Harvick did when Dale was killed, someone will succeed him. The only part of that on which I might risk a speculation, and it is only that… speculation, as I don’t get regular memos from Rick Hendrick, is that HMS “might” drop the #88, maybe in favor of the #25 that Rick ran for years with such “good guys” as Tim Richmond, Ken Schrader, Ricky Craven, Wally Dallenbach Jr., Jerry Nadeau, Brian Vickers, Casey Mears and a kid named Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. As recently as two years ago, Chase Elliott ran a handful of pre-rookie Cup races in the #25 before succeeding Jeff Gordon in the #24.
As for what he will do next, I’d say that decision, or decisions as the case may be, are entirely up to Junior and Amy. They have a life to live that doesn’t include asking permission from one of the largest fan bases in sports today. He could and might do any number of things, but those choices are private and his to make. What Junior Nation could and should do for him is to slowly back away and let him live his life unmolested and not ridden with some sort of unearned guilt for somehow having let “you” down.
This old race fan will spend the rest of this year praying that no ill-fortune finds him on any track and he can walk away from Homestead with his faculties intact and in no way impaired. If I were you… Junior Nation… I’d be thanking the Lord that you get some adjustment time between now and the time when he’s not there. You have seven months to say good-bye and build memories. That wasn’t the way it was with his dad, or so many others that were suddenly and inexplicably just gone! We never had a chance to say goodbye to Dale, or Neil, or Alan, or Davey, or J.D., or Kenny, or Adam, and there were vast numbers more before those beloved names. They got no farewell tours or press conferences to discuss their retirement because they never got a chance to retire. Please, try to see it in that light. Compared to the alternative, retirement is a good and wonderful thing.
To Junior and Amy, on behalf of a large cross-section of race fans, we wish you all the happiness that life can bring you, and success in whatever future endeavors you choose to embrace. When you leave, it will be with our blessings and our prayers… and with a million thanks for the good times. Vaya con Dios! (Go with God)
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!