Overwhelmed Dale Earnhardt Jr Recalls Feeling “Weird Sense of Independence” After His Father’s Tragic Demise

Published 06/23/2023, 6:18 PM EDT

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Dale Earnhardt Jr and his dad are one of the most iconic pairs in NASCAR history. It is saddening that fate had other plans for them. Earnhardt Sr‘s death in 2001 had the whole community shaken. It must have been particularly tough and insufferable for Junior. A phase of life that he most certainly is hurt by, he opens up on the feelings that made it so difficult.

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In a recent interview with Graham Bensinger, Junior talks about what his dad’s presence meant to him. Earnhardt takes us through the worst period of his life by spilling the beans about the tragedy combined with an increased sense of responsibility.

It wasn’t comfortable: Dale Earnhardt Jr on what it felt to lose his father

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February 18th, 2001, was the day tragedy fell upon the Earnhardt family. After contact with Ken Schrader, Earnhardt’s car went headfirst into the retainer wall. Resulting in a basilar skull fracture, Earnhardt succumbed to the injuries. That year’s Daytona 500 changed NASCAR and Dale Jr forever. Taking the initiative Bensinger asks, “Prior to him passing, your dad and stepmom I understand, would make most of your decisions for you. How quickly did that change?”

“Immediately after my dad died I had this very weird feeling of independence. It wasn’t comfortable.” replied the two-time Xfinity champion.

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“I was just thinking about all the things that I depended on Dad for. For advice and direction was just gonna be not there. how was that and it was a weird weird feeling. There was a bit of a release of some pressure that I can’t quite describe and I don’t know.” Undeniably his father was the most influential and revered figure in his life. A man of that stature cannot fail to inspire anyone.

Speaking on what were the questions that intrigued him after the incident, he says, “Like I was worried about how in the hell am I gonna live the rest of my life without my dad. it’s almost like man is this really even happening am I in some kind of dream? Is this surreal?”

As the interview moved ahead, Junior opened up more on how he tried to handle the empty feeling in his life.

Dale Jr reveals he had always been in his father’s shadow

A seven-time Cup Series Champion and nicknamed ‘The Initimidator’, Earnhardt was truly an entertaining driver. His aggression on the track and off it reflected all aspects of his life. One could truly feel the larger-than-life aura radiate from him. Talking about being his dad’s protege for most of his life, Junior says,

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“I had always been in his shadow and I was always gonna be in his shadow. I knew that and I was fine with that.”

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“As long as he was there you know, I traded men in his shadow to be close to him. When that was taken away, man it was a lot of weird emotions. I felt sadness, loss and terrible sadness but I felt some strange independence and loneliness, some relief of out of this shadow. “ Dale Earnhardt Jr was a regular presence on the tracks while his father raced. From watching him race on a regular occasion to never being able to see him again. The transition must have been gut-wrenching for him surely.

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“I can’t explain it. I don’t wish it on anyone” says Dale, overflowing with emotions.

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Written by:

Ansuman Abhisek

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Ansuman Abhisek is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. As an engineering graduate, he has a strong affinity for cars, and it didn't take long for him to translate that into his love for the sport. He is a big fan of Kyle Busch and believes that the Richard Childress Driver still has his best years ahead of him.
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Edited by:

Nischal Kandpal

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