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Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is end of an era

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

CONCORD, N.C. -- After the fans have emptied out of Charlotte Motor Speedway, after the engines have fallen silent and the stock cars have been packed up in their haulers, then Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finally have to leave.

Maybe he'll walk down pit road here one last time as a driver, peer into Victory Lane, where he once celebrated all those years ago.

Maybe he'll tweet, as is his custom, or tear up at the finality of it all.

But eventually he will leave, and when he does, it won't be the same as leaving Talladega or Daytona or any other track for the last time. It'll be different, because after the Bank of America 500 when Earnhardt drives out of his home track -- the one he shared with his grandfather Ralph and his late father, Dale -- it'll be the end of an era.

It'll be the end of three generations of Earnhardts racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"This track's been real special to me," Earnhardt said. "Been coming here a real long time, got a lot of memories here in and out of the car."

 

Long before there was Jr., and even before there was Sr., there was Ralph.

The eldest Earnhardt grew up in nearby Kannapolis, and he made his name as a dirt track legend years before his son or grandson ever got started. After becoming one of the first full-time drivers in 1953, he won the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman Championship.

"A hundred lap race in Columbia, he had a car there that was just better than anybody, but he never showed his hand," said NASCAR historian Humpy Wheeler, who is also the former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "For 98 laps, he ran third, fourth, and fifth. With two laps to go, he passes the leader like he's having a struggle and wins the race."

But in addition to his own accomplishments, which landed him on the list of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, his name lived on through his son, Dale.

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