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It’s a bittersweet time for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As the 17th anniversary of the untimely passing of his father, Dale Earnhardt, approaches, the 43-year-old NASCAR champion, who just retired from his career behind the wheel, is preparing to become a first-time father. In addition, he is also gearing up for the start of a new season of racing where he takes on a new role as a color commentator for “NASCAR on NBC.”

It’s a lot to process. So it’s no surprise that Dale is spending a little time looking back at the past while he prepares for the future, and he’s sharing some of those sweet memories with fans on social media. These memories include a photo of himself as a young man, before his own driving career began, but standing with his legendary father.

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Propped up against his daddy’s No. 3 Chevy, Senior’s arm slung lovingly around his son’s neck, the Earnhardt men strike a casual pose for television and print crews at an undisclosed race. While Senior flashes a half smirk, half grin for the cameras, his more bashful son looks down, seemingly caught in the middle of speaking to his father.

Junior’s caption seems to insinuate the same. “Early ’90s. I remember begging to go to the track every week, school permitting,” he writes.

The tender but fun photo seems to strike a chord with a number of fans of both father and son whose comments reflect their own memories and pay tribute not just Senior’s prolific and successful driving career, but also the incredible man that he was.

Instagram follower @akerg wrote, “And just like that a career has come and gone @dalejr. Thanks for the ride and memories, bud. I always felt like I was watching my son out there when I watched you race. Especially after 2001. I Loved to watch you race. No matter if it was up front or in the back. I’ve never been prouder of you than right now. Someday I’d really like to meet you and give you a dad hug and tell you in person how proud I am of the man you’ve become. I know Sr. is, too. May your new career be just as rewarding. Can’t wait to see some dad videos of you. Love ya man.”

Fan @dianedozois, also an Instagram follower, had her own great memories of hitting the track with her family. “I followed your dad since 1986,” she writes. “I met him in Daytona in 1989 across the street from the track at this little plaza. There were 40-50 people out there at the time. I was so thrilled he spoke for a bit and I was in awe! That’s the good old days when we parked our motor home right behind the Winston Tower in [the] parking lot. Drivers stayed at hotels and sat with us in restaurants for breakfast. The radio guys would interview them live in [the] restaurant while we were eating. Loved it back then … drivers were very accessible. I still love it though, but I miss your Dad muchly, and I know I will miss [you] as well on the track, but I am happy you made the right decision for you and your family. At least I hear from you on Twitter, [Facebook] and NBC in the last half of [the year]. Thanks for all you do, Jr.”

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Another follower, @chassylyn, is as much a fan of Junior as she was of Senior. She writes, “I love this picture. He was so proud, and I know he is even prouder watching over you. I watched and rooted for your daddy since I can remember, and when you began racing I was pulling for you, too. Never have been disappointed in you, and I got to meet you at fan day. When I won a wristband I was ecstatic, and it literally made my day. I wish you and Amy much luck and love. ❤”

And @winninghamjennifer recalls a tragic day, but offers a message of hope for the future. “Good memories for you,” she says. “Your Dad was my Dad’s favorite driver. He loved watching him race. One of the few times I’d seen my Dad become emotional was the day of your Dad’s fatal wreck. My Daddy just walked outside when they announced the sad news. I started to follow him but my Mom wouldn’t let me. She said Daddy just needed to be alone. It was a sad day indeed. I’m sure your Dad is so proud of the man you have become. He’s smiling looking down on you and Amy. I wish you and Amy the best of everything. Sure gonna miss seeing you race, but it’s a new chapter now. Make it a good one with Amy and that new little girl. Thanks for all the great memories. 🏁🏁”

NASCAR fans emotionally react to this flashback pic of Dale Earnhardt Instagram/@dalejr
Based in Nashville, Tammy is a 20-year veteran of the country music community. She has worked in marketing, PR and artist development. Follow her @TammyGooGoo and join the conversation @RareCountry
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