Geoff’s Journal: My memories of Dale Earnhardt Jr.


By Geoff Bodine

November 18, 2017


This Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racecar for the final time.


I don’t remember the first time I met Junior, but it was likely at a racetrack when he was young.


Tracks like Darlington and Rockingham used to have playgrounds for the drivers and their families. I know that’s where my boys met Junior.


In the early 1980s, drivers didn’t have motor coaches, so we would drive to races, sometimes in vans. With not as much space taken up in the infields of tracks, it was natural our kids would play with each other in the open areas.

RACING AGAINST MY SON

There was a Legends Car race at Charlotte Motor Speedway one year, and the field was comprised of drivers who were kids of NASCAR racers. It was known as a next-generation race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was a teenager at the time, competed in that race, and so did my son, Barry.


My son and I built a car and had a friend build the engine. We had Barry go out and practice but trouble struck as his motor was smoking. The engine builder forgot to plug a hole, so of all things to use, we took bubblegum and plugged the hole up.


My son ended up beating all of the next-generation drivers in the race.


OFF THE TRACK
I didn’t really have much contact with Junior during his younger years before he was racing but my family did.

My kid’s mother, along with my other son Matt and Barry, would go over to the Earnhardt’s and spend weekends there along the lake.


My sons would ride go-karts with Junior and Kelley Earnhardt.


Years later, at my brother Todd’s house, he and his ex-wife had a ranch with horses.

One day when we were getting ready to ride, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Junior came riding over, as their land was next to Todd’s, so we all went riding.


Once his dad and I started banging fenders, the kids didn’t go to the lake anymore, my wife and I stopped going to dinner with Dale and Teresa.


This year at Kentucky Speedway, the track gave him a Crosley Jukebox with a presentation in the media center.


He ended up donating the jukebox to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, which was really cool to see.


ON THE TRACK
Junior was just getting started in Cup towards the end of my career.


What I remember about racing against him is that he didn’t rub up against people like his dad did.


I have two brothers who raced, Todd and Brett. They saw what I went through with all the trouble and controversy over the years. They were both different than me.


Just like how Junior was different from his dad. He didn’t bang fenders with people or knock them out of the way. He drove hard but he didn’t spin you to win.


He raced clean and hard.


RESPECT
The one thing I remember every time I would speak with Junior was how respectful he was.

“Yes sir,” he would tell me when we would talk. I think his background in going to military school may have come into play there, as he would show a lot of respect.


“Well, I appreciate it, but you’re making me feel old,” I would tell him.


He’s always been polite and friendly.


He actually saw Barry up in Mooresville, North Carolina recently, and the two are planning on meeting up after the racing season ends.


And in turn, I have a lot of respect and admiration for his contributions to the sport and his desire to continue racing after his dad was killed at Daytona in 2001.


He could have stepped away but he kept going.


LEGACY
It’s going to be different not seeing Dale Junior on the racetrack, but he’s not going away since he will be on TV as a driver analyst. In what little broadcasting he’s done, he’s really good.

Junior is going to be missed by NASCAR Nation for many reasons.


He is stepping away as the most popular driver, as a good racer and good person. He’s helped a lot of people.

He will always be known for the son of Dale Earnhardt, and that’s a great thing.

Many people do not know this, but Dale Sr. helped a lot of people, too. He may not have gotten a lot of publicity, but he was one who enjoyed giving back.

I don’t know what Junior wants his legacy to be, but he’s done a lot of great things on and off the racetrack.


IMAGES

Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts Benjamin Palmer/The Racing Experts Austin McFadden/The Racing Experts


DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

What's your favorite Dale Junior memory?
Busch Series titles
2000 Texas Cup win
2004 Daytona 500 win
2014 Daytona 500 win
2015 Phoenix win
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