The fall Talladega race is in a few days. This particular one is Dale Earnhardt Jr’s last race at the track that is undoubtedly the capital of Earnhardt Nation.
I was a fan of Dale Sr; when he passed, I switched my allegiance to his son. It seemed only fitting…. Dale passed in 2001, and at the end of that very same year, I lost my own father. Seemed like it bonded Junior and me together, even though he’s completely unaware of it.
We’ll say that my mom tolerated my NASCAR fandom. She always associated it with a bunch of rough characters and rednecks, and I think she was mortified that the child she raised to be more refined than that chose that particular sport to follow. But after awhile, she came to at least follow it enough to know whether or not Junior had won the race.
On the weekends when he’d lose (and there were many in the 2000s), I’d hear “Well, your man lost again. What’s wrong with him?” On the occasions he won, I heard “It’s about time your man won.” Always an element of teasing in it. She never truly “got it”, but she accepted it.
Mom passed away on January 26, 2014, right before the start of the NASCAR season in February and before the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500. In my mind, the following interaction happened in Heaven:
A small, very determined angel found the angel with a large “3” on his back.
“Dale?” “Yes, ma’am. Have we met?”
“No, but my daughter is your son’s biggest fan. She’s a little upset right now because I left her and I need a favor. Frankly, your boy needs a favor too. I’ve seen the way he drives.”
“Now, ma’am… there’s nothing wrong with the way my boy…”
“I’m not taking no for an answer, Dale. You and I are gonna push his car across that finish line first. For both of our kids.”
Angel Dale just looked at her…. “Yes ma’am. Let’s go.”
And with that, two angels pushed that 88 across the finish line and Junior won the 500 on February 23.
I’m thinking another such interaction occurred in the Spring of 2015 when I was at Talladega and Junior won the race when I was there to see him. What a wonderful moment and a wonderful memory.
So I’m hoping that Mom and Dale have one more in them… because I think it would do a lot of people good to see that 88 win on Sunday.