For as long as I can remember, one of NASCAR’s greatest races, on perhaps it’s greatest track, is held on every 4th of July weekend. Most people look at the Daytona 500 as the greatest race in stock car racing. but how can you not put the 400 mile race right up there with it? The special paint schemes, the patriotism and the fact it’s under the lights makes for a great race. I’ve been watching this race since I was a child. Looking back on it, I have two very distinct memories of the 4th of July weekend in Daytona.
In 2001, NASCAR lost arguably its greatest driver in Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Two of Dale Sr’s cars finished first and second, but unfortunately, neither Michael Waltrip or Dale Jr. could celebrate. They mourned and Waltrip’s victory was the backstory to the tragedy the occurred that day. Fast forward five months at the Daytona night race and the return to the track that claimed a father and a team owner’s life. Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. teamed up to finish first and second again. This time, Junior was first and Waltrip was second. They got to celebrate the two Daytona victories together. I can honestly say as a fan of both Earnhardt’s, I was overcome with emotion. In my heart and mind, I still believe this was and is the greatest victory Junior ever had. Any normal person would have dreaded going back to the place where their father passed away; however, Junior and Waltrip took all the emotion and gave everyone some iconic images that will never be forgotten.
We fast forward to 2010, when Dale Jr. drove for Richard Childress in the Nationwide Race. He drove the iconic Wrangler #3 car, which was his dad’s first big sponsor in NASCAR. It was the old school paint scheme with a modern day look. I truly believe the Intimidator was inside Junior that night and that it was destiny to win that race. A lot of people thought when Senior passed away, the number died with him. Junior gave everyone their dream for one night and made the most of it. I think it gave Junior, Richard Childress and NASCAR some closure into everything that happened nine years earlier.
I personally love the Coke Zero, Pepsi, or Firecracker 400. It doesn’t matter what you call it, because the race speaks for itself. I always keep a close eye on the number 88 to see what magic he comes up with. Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the rest of the Sprint Cup drivers always put on a good race on the 4th of July, and I am sure in the years to come, we will be provided with more memories and iconic images from the greatest track in America. I can’t wait for the fireworks on and off the track at Daytona.