Earnhardt has a connection with Charlotte track

At the height of his father’s success at Charlotte Motor

Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would sit in the Turn 1 condos

overlooking the track.

The Earnhardts are from Kannapolis, just one town away, and

watching Dale Earnhardt at the speedway was a source of pride. Next

week marks the 20th anniversary of the late Earnhardt sweeping both

the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600, an event his son compared

to the years his father dominated NASCAR.

”In `86 and `87, they were really about as great as you could

be, and it was just a lot of fun to watch,” Earnhardt said. ”I

know the 600 was a big race and it’s still a big race, but we

didn’t have Indy and places like that to share the spotlight. This

was a big event, and it was similar to Daytona, and everybody was

at the 600 and everybody was here.

”We would sit up in those condos and watch everything. All the

practices and every lap, that every car ran all weekend long, and

it was just a lot of fun, and certainly a different time and

different sport than it is today. But it was a good experience for

me in just being young and having the run of the place

really.”

It’s helped create a connection for Earnhardt with the speedway,

where he won the All-Star race as a rookie in 2000. He’s never won

the 600 or the fall race at Charlotte in 26 tries.

It made it difficult for NASCAR’s most popular driver last

October when a concussion forced him to miss the race. It marked

the first time an Earnhardt didn’t race at Charlotte since 1978,

and the first time an Earnhardt missed a Cup race since the 1979

Southern 500.

Regan Smith replaced Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevrolet, and he

wrestled with whether to attend the race or watch it on TV at

home.

He ultimately decided his presence would have been a distraction

and unfair to Smith, who was thrust into the substitute role on

little notice.

”I wanted Regan and the guys to concentrate and do the best job

they could,” Earnhardt said. ”Emotionally, it was just really

hard to watch the car practice. Watching the race was – I knew I

wasn’t going to race – but the hard part is to see the car practice

because I enjoy the process that we go through in practice when

it’s me and the guys and we are trying to figure out how to go

faster.

”Once you are in the race, you have set the table and you sit

down and you have dinner and whatever happens, happens. The

preparation and buildup to it is what I enjoy most and I just

really didn’t like watching that. They were fast but man, when the

car would go fast it was just a lot of emotions like envy and

jealousy and just wishing to be out here. I was real selfish about

it, I guess to a fault. But I am competitive and I wanted to be in

the car and glad that I am back.”