On July 7, 2001, five months after Dale Earnhardt was killed at the Daytona 500, I was sitting in the lounge at the Best Western Captain’s Quarters in Oswego, N.Y., when his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the Pepsi 400 at that very same Daytona Speedway.
The announcers were going crazy afterward and half the fans were in tears. "It had to be this way," they were saying. "It just had to be. . ."
And I can still hear the bartender say, as she wiped down the bar, "Oh, sure."
So last night, at that same Daytona Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rode into battle in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race driving a car that was a replica of his daddy’s famous No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet.
This was the first time this happened and, according to Dale Jr., it won’t ever happen again.
In any event, the one-off seemed to have something to do with the thawing of the freeze between Dale Jr. and his stepmother, Theresa, who never really got along and have been pretty much at war since Dale Sr.’s death.
The salute was, ostensibly, to honor the memory of the great Earnhardt. (I think it might have had something to do with souvenir sales, but who am I to speculate on motive . . .)
In any event, Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who hadn’t won a race in the Nationwide Series since Aug. 19, 2006 – proceeded to drive his "Daddy’s car" into Victory Lane at Daytona last night.
As was the case in July, 2001, the announcers were going crazy and half the fans were in tears. "It had to be this way," they were saying. "It just had to be. . ."
And if she was watching, I bet that bartender in Oswego, N.Y., said, "Oh, sure."