Column: Daddy would have been proud
Published 3:52 am Monday, February 16, 2004
I must admit that I got a little misty Sunday afternoon after Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finished line to win the Daytona 500.
After all, it was six years ago to the day that his dad, perhaps the sport's biggest name, won his first and only Daytona 500.
It took Big E 20 times to win the sport's biggest race. It took Little E just five.
Not only was it ironic that Dale Jr. won the race on the exact same date his father did, but it also quieted the whispers that he too could not win the "big one."
Even though I thought those whispers were a little premature considering it was only his fifth Great American Race.
Still, they were there and Dale Jr. was beginning to feel the same heat his father did.
Dale Earnhardt dominated Daytona International Speedway like no driver ever had. Yet after 19 attempts Big E still hadn't won the "Super Bowl" of NASCAR.
But on Feb. 15, 1998, the Black No. 3 Chevy of Earnhardt drove across the start finish line to the delight of everyone.
I can remember vividly the pit crews of every NASCAR team lined up to give Earnhardt a high-five as he drove toward victory lane.
I can remember Big E doing donuts across the Daytona 500 logo on the infield grass in front of the grandstands.
Little E didn't get a handshake from each pit crew member, but his victory was no less emotional.
After taking the checkered flag he drove back around and stopped his car on the start-finish line and jumped out to not only salute the fans, but to embrace his pit crew.
Vengeance is mine says the lord and Earnhardt Jr. had his on Sunday.
Little E made a bold prediction toward the end of last season when he promised his team at Dale Earnhardt Inc. that if it stayed together he would win the NEXTEL Cup championship this season.
Earnhardt has never led the point standings in his brief NASCAR career, but he still laid out a plan for winning the championship in 2004.
As of this morning, Earnhardt leads the championship points.
There may have been one person who was even happier than Little E Sunday afternoon.
Crew chief Tony Eury Sr. was a close friend of Big E and he better than anyone else knows the frustration his friend went through until he won the "Big One."
Eury Sr. is like a father to Little E and he got a chance to show his pride on Sunday.