WATCH LIVE

George Hale Talks About Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 

GROWING UP AS A KID I ALWAYS LIKED AIRPLANES, MOTORCYLES AND FAST RACE CARS.

IN THAT ERA I HAD PLENTY OF HEROS TO FOLLOW MOST OF WHOM EVENTUALLY GOT KILLED DOING WHAT THEY LOVED.

SO THIS WEEK WHEN DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ANNOUNCED HE WOULD BE ENDING HIS CAREER AFTER THIS SEASON IT LOOKED TO ME LIKE THE END OF AN ERA.

THE NASCAR CIRCUIT GREW OUT OF GOOD OLE BOYS RUNNING MOONSHINE INTO THE GIANT BUSINESS IT BECAME OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES.

BUT CHANGE IS IN THE WIND.

EARNHARDT, WHO WON THE MOST POPULAR DRIVER AWARD 14 TIMES, BECAME THE THIRD STAR TO RETIRE IN THE LAST TWO YEARS FOLLOWING FOUR-TIME NASCAR CHAMPION JEFF GORDON AND THREE TIME CHAMPION TONY STEWART.

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT EARNHARDT WAS THE FACE OF THE SPORT PARTICULARLY TO THE OLDER FANS WHO HAVE BEEN THE MOST LOYAL IN MOTOR RACING.

BUT AS THE SONG SAYS “THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING.”

TV RATINGS AND RACE-DAY ATTENDANCE HAVE BEEN SLIDING FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS OR SO.

THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR THIS BUT NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH IS LOSING THE FAN BASE WHO LOVED SHORT TRACK RACING WITH ITS ACTION.

FOR THE MOST PART NASCAR CONCENTRATES EFFORTS ON THE BIG SUPER SPEEDWAYS IN LARGE MARKETS .

ONCE THAT TRADITIONAL FAN BASE ERODED IT WAS HARD TO GET THEM BACK.

SO WHEN JUNIOR MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT ON TUESDAY THE REAL LOSER WAS NASCAR.

THE EXECUTIVES HAVE RECOGNIZED FOR SOME TIME AND HAVE TRIED MULTIPLE FORMAT CHANGES TO SPICE THINGS UP.

MOST OF THE CHANGES HAVE NOT RESULTED IN A TURNAROUND.

AND HERE’S WHY.
STOCK CAR RACING HAS ALWAYS DEPENDED ON THE PERSONALITY OF DRIVERS.

FANS ARE IN A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR FAVORITES.

AND THAT’S WHY THE ANNOUNCEMENT FROM DALE JR IS SO VITAL TO THE SPORT.

STOCK CAR RACING HAS NEVER DEPENDED ON A RULE BOOK OR TECHNICAL CHANGES FOR FAN SUPPORT.

THE POPULARITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN DEPENDENT ON THE DRIVERS AND CULT OF FANS THAT FOLLOW THEM.

IT’S PRECISELY WHY THE LOSS OF EARNHARDT TO THE SPORT IS SO SIGNIFICANT.

AT THE MOMENT THERE IS NO APPARENT SUCCESSOR.

EARNHARDT’S FATHER WAS THE MOST POLORIZING FIGURE IN STOCKCAR RACING HISTORY.

HALF THE FANS LOVED HIS EVERY MOVE AND THE OTHER HALF THOUGHT HE WAS AN INTIMIDATING BULLY.

THE RESULT WAS FULL SEATS AND HIGH TV RATINGS.

THEN CAME THAT AWFUL DAY IN 2001 WHEN DALE EARNHARDT PERISHED ON THE LAST LAP OF THE DAYTONA 500.

JUNIOR WOULD RACE ON THE NEXT SUNDAY AND FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON THE COLLECTIVE GRIEF OF THE FANS WAS SPENT ON DALE JR AND 16 YEARS LATER HE STILL IS THE FACE OF THE BASE OF STOCK CAR RACING.

FROM THE MOMENT OF THE DEATH OF THE ELDER EARNHARDT THE SON BECAME THE BIGGEST NAME IS NASCAR.

AND SO,VERY LOGICALLY, BECAUSE OF TOO MANY CONCUSSIONS, DALE JR HAS DECIDED TO RETIRE AFTER THIS CAMPAIGN.

HE IS VERY WEALTHY AND UNDOUBTEDLY WILL BE INVOLVED IN THE SPORT BUT NASCAR EXECUTIVES, IN THIS DAY OF SAGGING ATTENDENCE AND TV NUMBERS,
SHOULD LOOK BACK AT THE BEGINNINGS AND RETOOL FOR THE BASE.

THERE IS A TON OF YOUNG TALENT OUT THERE RACING BUT SO FAR NO ONE IS UNIQUE.

THAT’S WHY THE RETIREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT OF DALE, JR WAS SO IMPORTANT THIS WEEK.

NASCAR WAS BUILT ON PASSION OF FANS.

I VIVIDLY REMEMBER MY FIRST NIGHT AS A TRACK ANNOUNCER.

A WOMAN THREW A BEER CAN AT ME.

WHEN I ASKED HER WHY… SHE SAID…BECAUSE YOU SAID SOMETHING ABOUT MY DRIVER I DIDN’T LIKE.

CAR RACING IS ABOUT PASSION.

THIS IS GEORGE HALE AND THAT’S MY PERSPECTIVE ON SPORTS.