Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I had the privilege of writing about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s newest milestone for the October issue of Charlotte magazine. Titled "Junior Turns 40," it's about, well, Junior turning 40 years old. But if you've gotten the chance to read the eight-page feature (the print issue came out about three weeks ago, the story went online two weeks ago), then you know the story is about much more than a birthday. It's about how much Dale Jr. means to this area (he's got a bar at the EpiCentre, his dad's got a roller coaster at Carowinds, to put each of them mildly), how much this area means to him (he still resides in his hometown of Mooresville), and sprinkled in between are anecdotes about how he's worth $300 million, has his name attached to more brands than Disney, and has been the most popular driver for more years than you have fingers.

But if you've paid close attention to the story, then you've also realized that it's both a reflection of how Junior has grown and evolved over the years, just as any of us hope we are as we reach our 30th, 40th, 50th birthdays, etc.; and how the Charlotte area, including Mooresville, has grown and evolved with him. And, as the story illustrates, he's such a down-to-earth, humble person, that he'll even stop outside of his favorite hometown pizza joint to help a lady whose car won't start.

Since the story came out, I've received some of the most flattering feedback I've ever gotten during my career as a writer. One of the best came in the form of a tweet from Dale Jr.'s sister, Kelley Earnhardt:

And I've received several emails from readers, expressing how much they enjoyed the story. Here are a couple:
Great work on the Dale Jr. piece. I really liked the ending about the billboard. Among many great insights, this was the best: "For years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was famous because of his father. But time does funny things, and now that he’s older, the shift is apparent: These youngsters standing in front of the car only know who Senior is because they know who Junior is." I'm fairly certain every NASCAR writer is going to write a "Dale Jr. is 40" piece and frankly they shouldn't bother after this one.
I wanted to take the time to say I thoroughly enjoyed the recent article you authored about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Given his iconic stature, there is no shortage of articles about Dale, but there is a shortage of well written or insightful articles. I found yours to be both. You touched upon so many facets and nuances that I believe others miss, or dismiss, in their attempts to grab headlines or create them with their words.

Okay, enough of my victory lap (pun intended).

Now, Junior's big day is upon us. His birthday is this Friday, October 10, the day before he competes in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his hometown track. My guess is that what he wants most for his birthday is to win the race Saturday night, to put himself in better contention to win the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (the championship), which would be his first.

But he's probably been celebrating all week. According to a post on Whisky River's Facebook page, there was a surprise party for him Monday night:

And even Dale Jr. shared a photo from the private party:

On Thursday, his girlfriend Amy Reimann is competing in the Better Half Dash, the annual fundraising competition in which the wives and girlfriends of several NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, and team owners drive race cars. You can bet Dale Jr. will be there to cheer on his better half. And on Saturday afternoon, the speedway is throwing the Dale Jr. Birthday Pit Party.

And just imagine all of the celebrations we aren't privy to! Though, Dale Jr. has revealed some of his gifts on Twitter, @DaleJr.


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