Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been reliving some of his most iconic moments behind the wheel.
As of right now, the racer is competing part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. On top of that, he is a team owner and an analyst for NASCAR on NBC.
Earnhardt is a two-time Daytona 500 champion. He drove away with the title in 2004 and again in 2014. He was also given the Most Popular Driver Award for 15 consecutive years from 2003 to 2017.
For the Earnhardts, racing is a family business. His dad was “The Intimidator” and long-time legend Dale Earnhardt and his grandfather was Ralph Earnhardt. Now, he is recounting his very first win at Daytona with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Conversation with Steve Austin
On USA Network’s show, “Straight Up Steve Austin,” the former professional wrestler talks with a series of different guests. From one of the stars of “Impractical Jokers,” Sal Vulcano, to country artist Trace Adkins, Austin sits down to just swap non-prompted stories.
One of his guests in 2019 was Earnhardt.
Earnhardt shared that a huge part of wanting to win the Daytona race, the biggest competition in racing, had to do with his family connections. His father had been attempting to win the coveted prize his entire racing career. He would get so incredibly close each race but would leave empty-handed. Earnhardt talked about watching his father go through this and how it inspired him to want to win early on.
“So, put yourself in my shoes. I’ve been growing up in racing all my life and watching my dad go to Daytona … He went all his career, all the way to the very end, 1998 he finally wins that race … I was thinking, damn, do I have to wait all my life to win a Daytona 500 or maybe not win it … that’s the race I want to win,” Earnhardt said.
Luckily for Earnhardt, he only had to keep himself waiting for five years of competing. For racing, there are so many unpredictable elements. Even if you’re leading a race in the final lap, anything can happen whether it’s a well-timed pass or a car malfunction.
Earnhardt explained that his team showed up in 2004 with a great car. At the same time he said he never thought to himself, “Man, I’m going to win.” It was early in his career and a victory seemed out of the picture given how long it took his father to win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Pulls Ahead
He said he was neck-to-neck with racer Tony Stewart the whole time. Both were using the same racing strategy, slowly lengthening their gap. Then, Earnhardt started to back off Stewart who was leading. He would back off and develop a really great draft.
Eventually, he used the draft that is developed right by the driver-side door and just barely tapped Stewart’s door. It caused him to slow down and Earnhardt to get a boost. Then he proceeded to lead for 20 laps without Stewart making a successful pass. He had done what he thought was the unexpected.
“It was like the biggest weight, all that worry about having to get that signature win. I got it early in my career and it was such a relief,” Earnhardt said.
Luckily, he won the Daytona twice, even though most drivers long to win it even once. The record for Daytona 500 wins goes to Richard Petty. He has won seven of the races during his career.
While Earnhardt has a lot of good memories of watching his family race in the Daytona 500 and even winning two races himself, he also has an infamously brutal connection to the signature race.
Fatal Daytona 500 Crash
During the 2001 Daytona 500 race, Dale Earnhardt Sr. suffered a fatal crash. He had collided with Ken Schrader’s car and both had come to a stop at the infield grass. At first, the crash didn’t look serious. Fans and announcers continued to watch the finish line until Schrader waved his hands frantically for help.
Since seeing Earnhardt Sr. in his last moments, Schrader has always been vague on what happened.
“I’m like, that was a pretty big deal, I’ll climb out and go talk to Dale. We were the only two cars in the middle of the grass, and no one was there yet, so I just checked on him. I never thought (he might be dead). There was no instinct or anything, no gut feeling. It was just tough seeing what I saw because I walked up there and took the window net down and thought he’d be happy to see that Mikey (Waltrip) won the race, but pissed off because he wrecked. I got caught off-guard with what I saw,” Schrader said, according to Sportscasting.
Letter to Ken Shrader
Earnhardt Jr. has recently said on his podcast, “Dale Jr. Download,” just how grateful he is for Schrader not sharing any gruesome details of his father’s death with people. In fact, he read him a letter on the podcast that nearly brought Schrader to tears.
“I’ve known you a long time and a lot of time has passed since that happened. And you’ve been a great friend to me. You’re one of only a few to see the darkest moment for my dad. That you have intimate knowledge of those moments, you are a keeper of that delicate information. It makes me feel close to you, Kenny. I feel pain for you to have to carry that memory, but you carry it for me, you carry it for (sister) Kelley, for dad’s family, you carry it for anyone who’s ever cheered for him. It’s a secret that you’ll keep ’til your last breath. Kenny, I know you might sometimes wish you weren’t the one, but I’m glad it was you,” Earnhardt read.