NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt was an inspiration to all

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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You know folks this is a big weekend for our NASCAR sport. We have the All-Star Race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Following that, on Sunday afternoon the first-ever class of our new NASCAR Hall of Fame is being inducted.

It’s just a big moment in time for our sport. Our new Hall of Fame represents everything that is NASCAR. It shows our past, our present and you definitely can envision the future. The thing I love is now we have our own Hall that has everything in one place.

NASCAR Dale Stevie Daytona2000 Inside_20100218114524_JPG

Dale Earnhardt with Darrell Waltrip's wife, Stevie, at the Daytona 500 in 2000.

There are racing museums all across the country. Now our sport finally has one that represents NASCAR. To me it’s more of a living Hall of Fame because of all the things that are represented there. When you walk into the place, it's Glory Road that will catch your breath. It contains a car from all the eras of NASCAR. It starts with a car from the very beginning of our sport and goes all the way up to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car.

As I mentioned, Sunday is about the first class going into the Hall of Fame. All five inductees are more than worthy of the honor. The one thing I get constantly asked, even today, by fans is, “DW, what would Dale think about this?" or, "DW what would Dale do about that?” It’s because anyone who every followed Dale Earnhardt knew that he was totally involved with everything that went on in our sport.

It didn’t matter if it was something in the garage, something political or even something to do with the souvenir business, you could count on the fact that Dale was involved. NASCAR relied on Dale a lot. Dale was the voice of the garage area. He was the driver representative.

When Dale would go speak to Bill France Jr. about issues in the garage, Bill would listen. Mr. France knew that Dale had the entire garage’s best interest in mind. It wasn’t like it was for himself or a select few.

I met Dale Earnhardt in the early 1970s. Dale was a man who had a dream. He had a desire to be the best race car driver that ever climbed behind the wheel. Dale watched his father become a very successful short-track racer. Ralph Earnhardt was a hard-as-nails, aggressive driver.

Dale saw the struggles that his Dad and his family had to go through so that Ralph could race. Now Dale had visions of bigger and better things. Dale and I used to talk about this many a night working on race cars together over at Robert Gee’s shop. My career at that point was just taking off. Dale was still running the dirt tracks around the Carolinas and wanted to move up.

All he wanted to do was race. Remember that Dale dropped out of high school because he wanted to focus on racing 100 percent. That was Dale. He never did anything halfway. Dale was always all in.

Look at what he did with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. before he was killed. He envisioned the family would run the operation. He wanted Dale Jr. to drive the car and be a seven-time champion. He worked so hard toward making that vision become a reality.

That’s why I always admired Dale. Remember, he and I hung out together when he literally had nothing. The man knew where he wanted to go and he had a plan on how to get there. I am proud to say I knew and saw him in the beginning of his career and unfortunately all the way to the bitter end. I saw how he changed. I saw how he changed the sport and how all that made the sport better. Dale Earnhardt being in NASCAR and being a seven-time champion has made the sport better.

NASCAR All-Star Race on SPEED
Don't miss the start of a new NASCAR tradition. Check out SPEED's TV schedule and make sure to tune in for live coverage of the inaugural Hall of Fame induction on May 23 beginning at noon ET.

3-WIDE HALL OF FAME PROFILES:

Dale Earnhardt
Bill France Jr.
Bill France
Richard Petty

MORE HALL OF FAME COVERAGE:

NASCAR's top families
Hall of Famers among us

I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t a day that went by where either I was telling a Dale story or having a memory of Dale. What a tribute to the man and his impact on the sport that there are millions of folks out there just like me.

What I loved about Dale was his work ethic. It didn’t matter if it was working on cars or going hunting. He was all in all the time. Dale was the common man’s hero. He just knew what he wanted and he worked so hard to get it.

I am grateful for the time I had with Dale. Sure, some of the times weren’t as good as others, but hey, you’ll have that in racing. When he asked me to drive the Pennzoil car for him in 1998 was the true highlight at the end of my career.

Now there would be times up on pit road before a race when I would be mad at him or he would be mad at me. My wife Stevie would bring us both scriptures to put in our cars and tell us to hug each other plus tell each other we loved him. There were times when that was really hard to do. We were fierce, bitter rivals on the track. I always knew, though, that he respected me and I respected him.

I just think it is only fitting that Dale Earnhardt is one of the first five inductees to our new NASCAR Hall of Fame. I am going to be there Sunday for the Induction and I am thrilled for the Earnhardt family. I am so proud of where Dale came from and what he accomplished. I miss Dale. I miss him every day.

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