Charlotte Magazine
Junior Image Credit: Charlotte Magazine
Junior Image Credit: Charlotte Magazine

Junior

NASCAR’s most popular driver takes a final lap, prepares to be a dad, and reminds us why he’s an everyman

Jodie Valade

EVEN IF HE DIDN’T HAVE that name, or that distinct facial profile, even if he didn’t have that skill on the racetrack, he might not be all that different.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would probably be the same down-to-earth guy who describes his loves in his Twitter bio as simple, everyman pleasures: “Friends, Music, Beer!”

But because he has that name, the one shared by his father who was so adored by NASCAR fans, he grew up in the shadow of fame. Because he so resembles Dale Earnhardt, who was beloved as “the Intimidator” for his aggressive, take-no-prisoners driving style, he had an instant fan base when he began driving, too.

And because he is Dale Earnhardt Jr., he not only retained that fan base through 26 Cup series career wins, but also earned more fans as he elegantly shouldered the grief of legions when his father was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.

As he displayed his guy-next-door personality, he watched his fan base grow, including a list of Twitter followers that has reached 2.3 million. He touted his bizarre love for banana-and-mayo sandwiches. He unabashedly declared a fondness for Milli Vanilli. He has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver 14 years in a row and is a heavy favorite to win again this year.

When 43-year-old Earnhardt Jr. announced earlier this year he would retire after 19 seasons of driving at NASCAR’s top level, it was n


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