But Does Dale Earnhardt Jr Qualify as a Legend?

But Does Dale Earnhardt Jr Qualify as a Legend?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Dennis Michelsen

But Does Dale Earnhardt Jr Qualify as a Legend?

Over the past few weeks I have seen headlines about a “Legendary Comic” and “Legendary Musician” who had passed away and while I do not live in a cave I had never heard of either man. In this day and age we do throw the word “Legend” around more loosely than we did years ago. Yesterday shortly after the news broke that Dale Earnhardt Jr was announcing that this would be his last full time season in NASCAR Monster Energy Cup racing the conversation quickly evolved to being about his legacy in the sport. Does Dale Earnhardt Jr qualify as a “Legend?”

NASCAR racing has always been about family. Many generations of the same family get drawn into the family business of NASCAR racing. As soon as the next generation hits the big time the inevitable comparisons to Dad or the older brother starts. When your Father is a seven time champion like Dale Earnhardt you are dealt a losing hand right away. It’s not just that your Father was a big time winner and tied for the most decorated champion in this sport, when it came to Dale Earnhardt you were the son of an almost God-like mythical being in the eyes of the cult-like Earnhardt fan base. This was an even tougher act to follow for Dale Earnhardt Jr than it was for Kyle Petty following the King of NASCAR Richard Petty.

Compared to his iconic Father the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr has been a failure but is that really a fair comparison? If you compare the statistics of “June Bug” to those of other racers of his era and in the history of the sport then you see that Dale Earnhardt Jr had a very good career at the highest level of his chosen profession. Only 28 drivers in the history of NASCAR Cup level racing have won more races in their career than Dale Earnhardt Jr won in his. Dale Jr also won back to back titles in the Busch Series when I think the competition level among full time competitors was much better than it is today.

It seems as though people fall into two categories when it comes to Dale Earnhardt Jr. His fan base has raised him to an almost cult-like status much like his Father and maybe that has led to the second category of people. What did Dale Earnhardt Jr ever do to get the hatred he gets from some of the Dale Earnhardt Jr haters? The man never claimed to be the second coming of “NASCAR Jesus” and never asked for the cult-like following. “All I wanted to do since I was eleven years old is to get paid to drive race cars,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr during his press conference announcing his exit from full time competition in the Cup series. “I didn’t set goals. I didn’t dream of winning championships, Daytona 500s or working with one of the best owners in the business. I just wanted to be able to do it.”

Being a “Legend” is more than wining big races and championships it is about being well known around the world even with people who aren’t NASCAR fans or even racing fans. I bet there aren’t many thirteen year olds around who haven’t heard of Dale Earnhardt Jr. But if he had not won so many races or the biggest race of all the Daytona 500 twice then his career would have fallen short of qualifying as a “Legend” in my book. Only 11 NASCAR drivers in history have won multiple Daytona 500s. Only 28 drivers have ever won more than the 26 times Dale Earnhardt Jr has won at the Cup level. Those statistics are impressive enough.

Beyond the fame and notoriety though is the fact that there hasn’t been a better “Brand Ambassador of NASCAR” than maybe Richard Petty. Dale Earnhardt Jr was responsible for over 25% of merchandise sales in NASCAR last season despite missing half of the season due to a concussion. This guy gets mobbed by the fans and media any time he attempts to walk through the garage area and always treats people great. Whether or not you agree with me that he meets the definition of “Legend” or not I think you will agree that he will be missed in this sport. In a sport that too often deals us fans a tragic ending to careers I am thrilled to see Dale Earnhardt Jr get to leave the sport on his terms.


  1. Robin Cox says:

    He is a legend in his daddy’s name! Yes he is a good driver, but legend, other than feeding off of his daddy’s name……….NO

  2. Lori Munro says:

    You can throw all the statistics and analogies around that you want but there is still a MAJOR factor that deems any individual a “LEGEND” in the eyes of others, and that factor is the generation gap. I personally identify my legends by those who I grew up watching… Petty, Yarborough, Pearson, AJ Foyt…. and they were all older than me.

    It’s somewhat difficult for me to put “LEGEND” status on people who are younger than myself. Maybe its just me, I don’t know. On paper, I agree with everything you said about Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career, but the emotional part that creates the legend status isn’t quite there. I’m not even convinced that Jr would classify himself as a legend, probably because he has people in mind who are legends in the sport too. But then if a kid of 10, 20, 30 thinks Jr is “their” legend, then he is.

  3. Ken says:

    Whether he deserves it or not, Jr. will be known as a Legend until a bigger celebrity comes along. Even though he is not really one, he will be known as one of the last “good old boys” from the south since most of the current drivers come from families with money or connections and are from out west or up north. He has done well representing the family and the sport over the years. Had Sr. not been killed in the tragic accident and retired like Richard Petty and others, Jr. would have been known as the son of a legend rather than as a legend himself.

    • Dennis Michelsen says:

      Interesting comment about the death of his Dad adding to Junior’s own legend

    • Robin Cox says:

      In my eyes, no he is not a legend. His name is legend. His stats do not make him a legend, but he has been a legend in making Nascar in the past few years with his fans.

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