BAKER: Here’s To You, Junior!

Tom Baker Cup, Tom Baker Blog 0 Comments

Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he will retire from NASCAR Cup Series racing after this season. (NASCAR photo)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — I watched the press conference all the way through yesterday; yes, the one where Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick spoke of Junior’s impending retirement.

That was one of the most genuine, heartfelt and truly emotional press conferences I’ve seen in some time.

It feels like Dale Jr. has become — in every way that should matter, from my point of view, anyways — so much like his father.

Results be damned! Success shouldn’t just be measured in wins and losses. Success should be measured by the positive impact you have on others and the things you inspire them to do.

I started to wonder what I would say if I wrote a letter to a man who has meant so much to so many for so long:

Dear Junior,

After 26 wins (so far) and 14-consecutive Most Popular Driver awards, you have made the decision on your terms that it’s your time to finish being a full-time Cup Series racer and move on to other things.

Good for you, man. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself over the years with us and especially today, a day that had to be a twisted bundle of emotions for you.

Your understanding of and concern for our sadness today, as well as the fact that you have cared more about not just your fans, but the people you’ve met and the relationships you’ve built than you do about your wins, speaks volumes about who you are as a man.

I believe you’re right when you say that the crop of young talent that is rising through the ranks will carry this sport into the future just fine.

You pointed out the ways in which drivers like Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney interact with the fans on social media and the approach-ability and authenticity of so many of these future stars as being something your generation, in many ways, didn’t have.

I would add that I think we are only seeing the tip of the positive impact that one of your favorite hobbies (sim racing) is going to have on our sport in the future, as it provides such amazing mental programming skills for how to drive race cars for those who use it as a training and learning tool, instead of just a video game.

Once more people in power understand and accept the role that sim racing can play in a driver’s development, I believe we will see it become more widely accepted and respected.

You have been a believer in that technology almost from day one, and your driver William Byron could be cited as very compelling evidence that your faith is not misplaced.

My particular position within the sport has allowed me to get to know many of the current crop of “minor league” racers, including William.

I truly believe as you do that if the fans will really, really stop and give this next generation an opportunity to show them the type of young people they are and the talent they possess, they would like what they see.

Continued on the next page…

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