Dale Earnhardt Jr., understandably, wanted to follow his father and become a professional racer.
Those were heavy shoes to step into if Earnhardt Jr. made it that far. Dale Earnhardt Sr. is among the greatest NASCAR drivers ever to get behind the wheel, and he debuted in the Cup Series only months after Earnhardt Jr. was born in 1974.
Earnhardt Jr. stuck to his dreams, though, even as the pressure of reaching the Cup Series left a physical toll on him at a young age.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had lofty goals growing up
For decades, all aspects of the entertainment industry — from acting to sports — are filled with second and third-generation players.
Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ father, Pat, was a longtime baseball pitcher. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.’s father once hit two grand slams in a single inning with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. can relate to those players, and so many others. Months after Earnhardt Jr. entered the world, his father debuted in the Cup Series and began a historic NASCAR career.
Dale Jr. spent his childhood and teenage years watching his father star on the racetrack. It didn’t take long for the younger Earnhardt to decide that he wanted to get behind the wheel and join his father in the Cup Series.
Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR dreams made him sick
Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted to reach the NASCAR Cup Series by any means necessary, and his hopes nearly consumed him in the process.
During a 2014 interview with USA Today, Earnhardt reflected on how much he worried while in high school. Earnhardt admitted that he had stomach ulcers when he was in the 10th grade because of how bad his stress became.
“I was hurting so bad. I was on Tagamet before it was over the counter. I was just worried too damn much about making it in racing. It just seemed like it was miles away – unreachable, this opportunity. I just worried about it way too much and didn’t enjoy what I was doing then – high school, my friends.”
Despite the pain, Earnhardt Jr. never quit on his dreams. By 1994, when he was 19 years old, Earnhardt was racing in North Carolina and South Carolina and working on cars in his spare time.
Earnhardt made his Cup Series debut in the spring of 1999, placing 16th at the Coca-Cola 600. Dale Sr. finished sixth in a race that Jeff Burton won.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. carved out his own legacy
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s connection to his father is forever part of his legacy.
Earnhardt Jr. has spent 25 years creating his own reputation, though. When Earnhardt retired as a full-time driver after the 2017 season, he had 26 victories and 260 top-10 finishes to his name.
Earnhardt, who is now with NBC, will officially enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame at some point in 2022. This year’s election was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.