A very cool thing happened Friday at Sonoma Raceway just before the formal start of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s media availability at the Northern California road course.
Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 will be Earnhardt’s final race at Sonoma, and it’s customary for tracks to give retirement gift to star drivers.
But what Sonoma and track President Steve Page did as a going away tribute to NASCAR’s most popular driver was a stroke of genius: Working with a Forestville, California, organization known as Paws As Loving Support Assistance Dogs, the track donated three puppies to be trained as service dogs on Earnhardt’s behalf.
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The puppies — named Dale, Amy and Junior — will get trained to work with children with disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments, or perhaps work in courthouses and other community settings.
Yes, the names of the dogs were corny, but the move by Page and his top-notch team at the track was genuinely wonderful and inspired. It wasn’t just giving Earnhardt some trinket or trophy he didn’t need. It was a heartfelt gesture that will improve the lives of people who can use the unconditional love a dog provides.
“I think it’s a great thing that the track did,” said Earnhardt. “ Amy is going to love this idea and she is going to be a little sad she wasn’t here to see the dogs today, but it’s nice to know that these types of things are happening and you guys are making a difference in people’s lives.
“We really appreciate that and obviously thank the track for their investment to make this happen. It warms my heart. We do love dogs and love making a difference in kids’ lives and this is a twofer. Pretty neat deal.”
You could just tell how much Earnhardt appreciated the gesture from the track.
“The race track is going to do something that makes a difference for someone else,” he said. “Our whole idea of finishing up the season is to try to show our appreciation. And sort of express that to our fans and everyone in the industry on making this an incredibly enjoyable ride.
“This fits right into that,” Earnhardt said. “It’s awesome that we are going to be able or they are going to be able to help somebody and help some kids. These dogs are going to have wonderful lives and they are going to enjoy doing that as well. The dogs will enjoy making a difference in someone’s life. That’s pretty cool.”
Earnhardt said he check on the progress of the three dogs in the years.
“Excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing,” said Earnhardt. “Be a lot of fun to do that. We aren’t disappearing we will be back to see you guys again, so thank you.”