Earlier today, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced that 2017 would be his final year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The decision was made on March 29th.
When I think of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., I think of the words bold and courageous. Earnhardt Jr. has went through trial and tribulation throughout his illustrious career.
Why does bold and courageous come into my mind when I think of Earnhardt Jr.? Here’s why:
The weight of the NASCAR world was thrown onto the young driver in 2001 when his father was tragically killed in the Daytona 500. As a young driver in NASCAR at the age of 26, it was more to handle. However, he handled it well. The NASCAR world looked for Jr. to carry the torch and live up to the legacy his father left. The weight of living up to that legacy left Earnhardt, Jr. burdened.
In 2007, he announced that he would leave the organization his father started, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, to go race for Rick Hendrick at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. That was a bold move leaving an organization that he was slated to run in the future for a ride at Hendrick. He ultimately left that organization because Theresa Earnhardt, his stepmother, would not give him controlling interest in the organization. Earnhardt Jr.
Later that season, he announced that he would be joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, where he is set to end his career.
In the midst of a career shakeup in the Cup Series, Jr also started a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, JR Motorsports, in 2006 just before the economic struggles began in the United States. In an effort to survive, JR Motorsports joined an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 that would provide engineering, chassis, and engine support. Without the bold and courageous move to join an alliance with Hendrick, JR Motorsports would probably not be able to field five cars in 2017.
More recently, Jr. made a bold and courageous move to step out of the car in 2016 after suffering a concussion. He also made the decision to be open and candid about the struggles and experience of rehabilitation from concussions.
The decision to be candid with media and fans showed athletes that they do not have to be silent about the issues they face due to participating in the sports they love. This decision also opened the door for Earnhardt Jr. to help others find ways to get treated for concussions they have suffered.
Although he may retiring for Cup action in 2017, Earnhardt Jr is still set to be around the NASCAR realm as a team owner in the Xfinity Series and potentially on TV.
As Dr. Suess once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” To Dale Earnhardt Jr., thank you for your impact on our sport and the best is yet to come.