“You F**king Believe That?”- Dale Earnhardt Jr Questions Raging Trend as He Looks Back at NASCAR Greats Richard Petty and Bobby Allison in His Dilemma

Published 09/27/2023, 3:13 PM EDT

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July 4th, 1984. Fireworks glimmered in the American sky. People walked hand in hand on bare soil, fragranced with an everlasting whiff of liberation. The 40th President of the Land of the Free witnessed Richard Petty‘s 200th win two centuries after the Declaration of American Independence was issued. That was our racing ‘King’ and that was his incomparable milestone.

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Veteran racer Dale Earnhardt Jr grew up on the foothold of these iconic moments. His father, the legendary ‘Intimidator‘, was himself captured in the treasured memories of NASCAR’s history. The dilution of revered milestones to an unremarkable routine affair is a source of great consternation for his heir. As he pondered this modern development, Dale Jr presented his stance to the entire racing community.

Dale Earnhardt advocates for illustrious performances over trivial digits


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The advent of the technological era brought revolutionary changes in the world of motorsport. 64 years ago, the King’s father Lee Petty drove neck and neck with Johnny Beauchamp in the first-ever Daytona 500 race. Beauchamp was declared the winner. But did he win? Photographic evidence could only be furnished three days later. A new announcement was made and the trophy dramatically switched hands. But the breakneck speed of social media left no room for such climatic productions. In order to stay continuously relevant, new histrionics emerged.

Perhaps once in a decade could a sport produce racers like Dale Jarrett or Jimmie Johnson. But hundreds of racers participate in NASCAR events every year. It might take another century to find a new gem who could create and live through a moment like Petty’s.


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To fuel the momentum of audience interest, new benchmarks were created. Who led the most laps? Which team had the best finish in three races? When would a driver reach his 100th start? These questions baffled the Xfinity Champion. Particularly the current fixation on the number of starts.

In his podcast, The Dale Jr Download, he explored the mockery this made of legitimate landmark achievements. Dale Earnhardt Jr bemused, “There is something that crops up every once in a while in this sport of ours that is interesting to me. The milestones. The starts. Guess who got 100 starts this week? 200? 300? I don’t freaking know.”

Junior then asked his associate, Mike Davis, “How many starts did Richard Petty have? Give me some of the greats. Let’s pick any, Dale Jarrett. Give us some numbers, even in the 10th, 15th, whatever.”

When Davis informed him Bobby Allison was on the 17th spot with 700 starts, Junior wondered about its relevance today. He continued, “So 700 is a good number…When you guys see 300 starts for X driver, now that you know 700 gets you barely in the Top 20, do you get excited about that? Social media didn’t exist then either, but we didn’t go to the racetrack back in the 90s and go, ‘Dude, it’s freaking Dale Jr’s 300th start! Can you f*cking believe that?’ Does nothing for me.”

Well-versed in public relations, Mike Davis severed Junior’s outdated illusions with fraught reality.

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What happens when historical fantasy cannot match trumped-up reality?

The upcoming playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway would bring out the nerves of the most seasoned of racers. But Dale Earnhardt Jr mastered the challenging track akin to his seven-time champion father. From 2001 to 2003, Dale Jr accomplished four consecutive victories on the superspeedway, leading 290 out of 752 laps. Four-time championship winner Jeff Gordon broke his impressive streak in a contentious finish. When the winner was decided on the basis of earlier rules of racecar placement, the bleacher audience was outraged enough to throw refreshments on the racetrack.

The point? The career of this legendary racer was filled with outlandish and entertaining moments. And that was the crux of the issue, according to PR expert, Mike Davis. He related his experience of working with former racer Jimmie Spencer. Without victories to boast or crashes to exploit, Davis fabricated details to make the racer’s career more appealing to viewers. Junior was thunderstruck at the unethical revelation, but Davis admitted it was more commonplace than the racer realized.


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After Richard Petty’s first win in 1960, the King had amassed 26 more in the next two years. And yet he endeavored for a bigger milestone. He finally celebrated with a spectacular Daytona 500 finish in 1964. Perhaps if every year of his career wasn’t littered with iconic moments, the press might have relied upon his 1184 race starts to garner more limelight. But Dale Earnhardt Jr’s apprehension cannot be entirely dismissed.


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In this media race of content generation, are we focusing more on mediocre starts than outstanding moments?

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Written by:

Parika Singh


One take at a time

Parika Singh is a NASCAR writer at EssentiallySports. Her combined love for writing and motorsports drew her to the world of sports journalism, where she fell in love with the thrill, unpredictability, and charisma of covering racers and race tracks. She especially looks out for the #5 Chevrolet of Kyle 'Wheelman' Larson, because of whom, she holds a soft spot for the 2021 season where he emerged as champion.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh




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