Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will mark the final time that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will participate in one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races as a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Before strapping into the cockpit for both the Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series races on the high banked half-mile, Earnhardt took some time to reflect on Bristol and just what the track has meant to him over the years, from coming to the track as a child all the way up to getting to compete on it as a driver.
“You know when I think about Bristol… when we came here as kids we just had a blast,” said Earnhardt. “We would watch everything, practice, racing and all that. I remember that. It was just so fun to come here. This place it was crazy. There weren’t a lot of high-banked short tracks. This was really unique, exciting, with the way the cars were going through the corner and the view we had from the top of those buses, we felt like we were 20 feet from the cars. You could really see the cars working and what the guys were fighting. And then obviously, when there was any kind of activity or aggressive driving and stuff, I mean it was right there in front of you. It was really incredible. So, I think about that a lot and sort of miss that part. I miss being a kid you know and running around here with all my friends.”
Earnhardt has had a good amount of success at Bristol over the years, but his weekend sweep in 2004 still remains as one of the most memorable moments in the track’s history, as he was able to become the first driver to ever win both races in one weekend. Though he has not visited victory lane at Bristol since that August weekend, he noted that being able to win the night race has stuck with him all these years later.
In addition to his 2004 sweep, Earnhardt has finished in the top-five eight times, along with 16 top-10 finishes, 790 laps led, and an average finish of 13.3, placing him third among all active drivers.
“Dad won a handful of races here. He had those trophies in the house. I remember when he built his log cabin, he had them all up on this ledge, about a 10-foot ledge, and they were all up there to the right of the fireplace. It’s another track, there are a couple tracks in the schedule that have unique trophies and they haven’t changed, which I’m glad. And this is one of them. For a while that trophy was taller than I was and I had been lucky enough to go to Victory Lane with Dad a couple of times, so, that was a trophy that I wanted. I felt really, really lucky to have gotten one. I don’t have many trophies in the house, but that is one of them that I keep in the living room because when you win here the driver is a big part of it. So, a lot of tracks, the bigger tracks, you need a lot of race car to do well, and here you need a really good driver. And I felt lucky and fortunate to have got a victory here.”
As Earnhardt is in the midst of his final full-time Cup Series season, he is starting to visit tracks for the final time, prompting them to present him with various gifts and donations in his name to honor his career and his upcoming retirement.
Bristol announced that they would be starting an annual scholarship in his name to be awarded to a Sullivan County, Tennessee student interested in pursuing a career in the automotive industry.
When the scholarship was announced, Earnhardt was ecstatic about the gift being made and noted how important it was to him to be able to help others that may not be as fortunate as he has been during his career.
“That is what I’m talking about man,” said Earnhardt. “That is awesome. Man, that is awesome. I appreciate the track and especially what that will do for some individual and doing it annually. Wow! That is going to be pretty neat. Hopefully, the guys and girls who get that opportunity take advantage of it.”
“I just like helping people. I have been blessed with a lot of things and I don’t need anything else and if the track is going to make an effort and maybe even put some money into something, I would rather them do something that is going to make an impact in somebody’s life. That is an awesome reward for me to see somebody benefit, somebody deserving benefit. I enjoy that and it’s fun to see kind of how the tracks get creative to make an impact in their own communities.”
“I just feel like … I don’t exactly know how to put it into the right words… but I feel like my life has been too good to be true and I just have had so much given to me and I feel like this obligation to turn it around and do something for someone else. And as I’ve gotten older I’ve done more and more of that and I feel the joy from that. So, I love to see that happen more and more and love to be a part of that more and more. As we get more and more creative with our initiatives on our foundation and continue to understand our ability to reach people and impact our communities and also impact the nation you do that out of enjoyment and pleasure. So, I get a great return on that. It’s a lot of fun to see somebody… maybe I will meet some of these people down the road. Like ‘I got this opportunity and I took it here and this is what happened’ and that will be a great feeling.”