March 19, 2001
Dale Jr. Diary: Memories of Dad
By Dale Earnhardt Jr., Special to Turner Sports Interactive
Originally appeared at NASCAR.com
It's time again for my monthly column. I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite memories I have of my father. Since his death, these are the memories that help me through the hard times.
Learning How to Ski
At 6 years old, I float in the murky water of Lake Norman with one ski on each foot.
Each ski seems to weigh 100 pounds, each tight like a glove to my feet. My father holds me upright as I hang onto the ski rope, which is tied to the hitch of a pickup parked on the boat ramp about 20 yards away.
This makeshift learning tool seems crude, but I felt perfectly safe with my father's idea.
Once my father gave the signal, the driver of the truck would floor the gas, pulling me out of the water and up on my skis. This probably wasn't common practice around the lake for most beginners, but at such a young age, I couldn't pass it up to prove my bravery.
After about six attempts I had it down flat -- literally. On the last attempt I was dragged up on the boat ramp, leaving me with quite a strawberry on the backside. I have this in its entirety on film somewhere. When I take my son to the lake for skiing, I will be driving the truck.
Snow, Trucks, and More Snow
About that same age, I got the chance to do some real male bonding with my father and his friends.
Sometime that winter, I was invited to ride along with the guys in their 4x4 pickup in the dead of night. The ground was covered in snow -- the roads had not been cleared.
This was a man's road trip. Having a 7-year-old along usually meant less fun and hell raisin' for the fellas.
I took this in mind and jumped in the middle of the bench seat and kept my mouth shut. If my memory serves me correct, my father's co-pilot this night was NASCAR's own Gary Nelson.
What a sight it was to see some 20 pickups fishtailing down the windy back roads of Mooresville. I can only imagine since I couldn't see over the dash just yet.
Most of what I remember about that night is just being with my father. Although it seemed as the truck was out of control, he knew exactly what he was doing. I never experienced that same feeling again until joining him on the racetrack in Japan for our first race together.
Get Your Head On Straight
While practicing for one of my first Busch Series races at Charlotte, I lost control and ended our weekend early.
A few friends and I went directly back to my doublewide trailer and sat in disbelief as to what had happened.
As I sat pondering the future of my racing career, the back door flung open, and in walked what seemed to be a 10-foot-tall tall Dale Earnhardt.
The look on his face wasn't pleasant. As my buddies scrambled to get out the front door he asked me to join him on the back porch.
We spent more than an hour talking about his perils in the early days of his career and how I should be looking forward to my next opportunity to race.
In that conversation somewhere, I was assured of his love for me, and the hope he maintained for me to be successful in whatever I did. From that day on, I never worried about my mistakes, only looking forward to the chance to redeem them.
Our Final Stance
My father joined me in victory lane for many of my wins in the Busch and Winston Cup Series.
The one that stands out most clearly is the win in Charlotte at The Winston. My first Busch win and my first Cup win were enjoyable with him as well, but The Winston had a different feel while standing there with him on stage with the trophy.
The best race I saw him run was at that same event in 1987. For some reason, I felt I had equaled that performance. As if to say "look dad, the same race, the same excitement, the same result!"
I could see in his face that night he agreed. Of all the time I have spent with my father, this moment is the most valuable to me. I will never forget his smile, his expression, or anything else about those moments with him on that stage that night.
My dad and I, with that elusive Winston trophy there in front of us. It belonged to him as much as it did me that night.
Till next month,