Almost everyone has that person in their career that gave them a hand, some help or a break. Mentors can be found in every career path and at every level. Dale Earnhardt Jr. certainly wasn’t the star he is now when he got a major break in his career courtesy of racing legend Bobby Hamilton.
In a new video posted on his Instagram page, Junior remembers the driver and team owner who passed away 11 years ago after battling cancer.
“So, Bobby Hamilton passed away on this day in 2007,” he begins. “And every time I hear Bobby’s name, I think about this story I’m going to tell y’all. It just goes to show the kind of character he was. He was really respected in the garage and this story kinda tells me why.”
Dale goes on to explain that back in the ’90s, he raced late model stock cars on the weekends throughout the southeast, including Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina. On weekends when that Myrtle Beach Speedway didn’t have races, he and his crew would come to Nashville and race on the small track at the city’s fairgrounds.
On this particular weekend that Dale is remembering in his video, Bobby also had a couple of cars running in Nashville, including one driven by Casey Atwood. After just a few practice laps on the track, Dale’s car was running so well, his crew chief, Wesley Sherrill, told him to bring the car in, but an accident on the track prevented Junior from pitting.
Stopped short of the accident, waiting for it to clear, Dale was rear-ended by a car that couldn’t find a way around the debris on the track.
The accident destroyed both cars, which caught on fire. And with no real functional fire engine to aid in extinguishing the blaze, it ended what could have been an amazing race for Junior.
Obviously upset over the premature ending to a fun weekend of racing, Dale and Wesley were assessing the situation when Bobby Hamilton came out of the throng of fans who had just witnessed what happened and offered Junior a car to drive.
“I heard this voice say, ‘Do you want to race,’ and I turned around and it was Bobby,” Dale remembers. “And I said, ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ and he said, ‘Do you want to race?’ I said, ‘Well, of course I want to race.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve got a car you can drive.’”
It wasn’t a Chevrolet, and Dale explains, “It had a spool in the rear-end housing, so it didn’t have a ratchet, so it was tricky figuring out the stagger you had to run.” Casey wasn’t a fan of the car, but it was obviously much more drivable than the pile of cinders Dale was looking at on his trailer.
Dale attempted to call his dad, Dale Earnhardt, for advice but ended up talking to Senior’s general manager, Don Hawk, who told him to drive the Ford Bobby was offering, but not to make a big deal about it.
Taping over the car’s number and making some mechanical adjustments to make it race ready, Junior took the track in the car and qualified in the top 10.
Although Dale Jr. led most of the race, with 30 laps left the transmission blew. And while that ended the driver’s potential win, he had still ben able to race, and Bobby got an offer on the car that he had been unable to sell previously.
It’s obvious that Dale remembers Bobby Hamilton fondly and, as he continues with his career, will likely have many more amazing stories to share with fans.
We’re just a month away from the start of NASCAR’s racing season when the green flag flies on Feb. 11 in Daytona, and it will be so exciting to see what this next chapter of Dale’s NASCAR tenure brings now that he has retired from driving.
Then, not too far after the season starts, Dale will be taking on a new responsibility … as a first-time father.