Dale Jr. and Bristol Motor Speedway

Dale Earnhardt Jr – Outside of the Numbers Heading into Bristol
By Kent Whitaker:  
There is no question that Dale Earnhardt Jr is a fan favorite when it comes to NASCAR and stock car racing. Now, following a great run at Texas Motor Speedway the famed driver is set to take on the high-banks of Bristol Motor Speedway after the traditional Easter break. Bristol is also a fan favorite and seems to be one for Earnhardt as well.
Sometimes you must step away from the numbers and stats to get a feel about the connection between a driver and a certain track on the schedule. Bristol is one of those tracks when it comes to Dale Jr.
“As a kid I loved coming here because we would just run from one end of the track to the other getting into whatever we could get into,” Earnhardt Jr. said during a 2016 Bristol media room appearance.
More than Just a Place to Roam
Earnhardt would be the first to tell you that Bristol is a track that holds a bit of nostalgia for him. It was one of his favorite stops for the series when he was growing up watching his dad race. During the 2016 season Earnhardt passed along a few stories about sitting atop vans watching the action.
“They used to park the comfort coach conversion vans in the corners,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “All the drivers would park theirs in the corners and we would just climb up on the back of them and watch practice. You were literally 30 feet from the cars when they were going by. In the race they would crash and roll down the banking feet from the bus.”
Learning while Watching and Having Fun
Those days sitting atop the coaches and vans with his friends proved to be more than just something fun to do for the youngster. In a way, it seems that Earnhardt also used the time to begin to understand how tough it was to drive around the high banking and short straight-a-ways that defines Bristol.
“It was just the coolest thing as a kid to be able to be that close to the action and see the drivers in there working and turning the wheel and watch the cars literally work as they go through the corner and how the cars were handling,” Earnhardt said as he recalled the experiences to the media. “It was so much fun having that kind of vantage point.”
It’s that kind of attention to detail that now helps define the driver today. Earnhardt has grown up over the years and was once known for just showing up a few minutes before he was needed to crawl into a window for on-track practice. Those habits have fallen by the wayside.
Today Earnhardt is known for his attention to his team, the schedule, meetings, crew, and just about every aspect of his business on and off the track. It’s a turn-a-round that has helped keep the driver a fan favorite. He’s matured along with legions of his fans.
Heading into Bristol
It’s impossible to start the Bristol race weekend without pointing out the good things that happened for Earnhardt at mountain speedway. In 2004, the driver grabbed his only checkered flag at the track. It was a season that helped define the skill level of the “Intimidator’s” son. Dale Earnhardt Jr won another five races that same season.
That last Bristol win was a long time ago and Earnhardt has put in the laps since in a continuing fight to return to victory lane at “The Last Great Colosseum.” Since he began racing at the NASCAR Cup level Earnhardt has started in 33 races winning once. Before missing half the season in 2016 he came close to his second victory by coming in second.
Who knows, maybe Earnhardt can make his way back to Victory Lane at Bristol in 2017. With a convincing run at Texas the driver may be signaling that things for his Hendrick Racing No. 88 team may be on the up-swing. Who knows, anything can happen at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kent Whitaker, often called ‘the Deck Chef,’ is a sportswriter, culinary writer, and cookbook author with fourteen titles. He covers NASCAR, racing in general, Football, barbecue, grilling, and tailgating. You can visit him on www.thedeckchef.com .”