Fan reactions weigh on Dale Jr. during retirement news conference

Silence blanketed the Hendrick Motorsports Team Center building Tuesday afternoon for three long minutes before Dale Earnhardt Jr. strode across the stage wearing a suit and tie.

Hardly anyone said a word. No music played. Just silence, save for the sound of people shifting in their chairs.

What was about to come in an hour-long news conference to discuss Earnhardt’s decision to retire? The tone was unclear, but it seemed like he could handle it in a variety of different ways.

Perhaps he’d be excited and buoyant, pumped about the future after making a decision to step away.

Maybe he’d get choked up, overcome with emotion over realizing his full-time racing career was coming to an end.

Or he could bring a motivational angle to the speech, trying to cheer his massive fan base and tell them everything was going to be OK.

In reality, it wasn’t any of those things. While Earnhardt said he was at peace with his decision and was happy with his career, he was solemn and “spun out” because he was fretting over how the news would be received by his fans.

Typical Earnhardt. A man driven by a fear of letting anyone down and a sense of duty to those he loves spent his retirement news conference thinking about other people instead of himself.

By the time he took the stage, most of those close to him had already been informed. He made a round of phone calls Monday night, breaking the news to a variety of people.

His fans, though, didn’t know until the news was made public Tuesday morning. And he was nervous as to how they’d react, because he didn’t want to bring them any pain.

“I’m very sad because I know that it’s definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning,” he said. “I know we’ve got a lot of fans that are very sad, for lack of a better way to describe it.

“So I feel that emotion as well, that what I’ve announced today has had that effect on a lot of people.”

Indeed, it was a tough day for his fans. Those on Twitter used words like “lost” and “heartbroken” to describe their emotions, spending the day crying their eyes out. People compared it to a breakup; others described it, sincerely, as one of the saddest days they’d experienced.

Those who aren’t hardcore Earnhardt fans might scoff at such reactions, but they’re very real. Even those fans who never met Earnhardt feel like they know him, because he speaks their language and they feel a connection — even if it’s a one-way relationship.

Earnhardt knows this, of course. He’s seen countless people rendered speechless or moved to tears by meeting him over the years. So even if the emotions seem silly to outsiders, Earnhardt wasn’t taking them lightly on Tuesday.

That he cares so much is a testament to why he became popular in the first place.

But after the initial shock, his fans may discover it’s not really the end. First, there are 28 more races this year where they get to say goodbye — a chance not all fans get (just ask Carl Edwards supporters).

Then, there are future races — at least two in the Xfinity Series next season and probably more to come — which will ease the transition for everyone.



Plus, he’ll still be around — just in a different capacity, he said. And that thought might help some fans dry their tears.

“I really enjoy making people happy,” he said. “I think I can replicate that in the next chapter of my life.”

25 Replies to “Fan reactions weigh on Dale Jr. during retirement news conference”

  1. Jeff,
    This article was great. To capture He’s feelings about his fans, I believe was a big part for the way the press conference. Jr is not just a race car driver to the hardcore FAN, He’s family & will remain that way. #JRNATION is so proud of the man, this arrogant kid turned out to be & I say that with all the ❤ of a mother for her son. I’m sad, but happy also. Dale Jr has overcome & has gained the love of us all. Love never dies, it just grows & will even more seeing him happy, healthy, & starting a family. Can’t hardly wait for he adventure of life to begin outside the race car. Thanks for this article.

  2. Jeff, So well written as usual. You know him and us well enough to capture our true feelings. Thank you ????

  3. Finding it hard to grasp why he is walking away. He talked about how he loves his team. He loves racing and driving the cars he loves the competition he loves getting up early now to get in his car to practice. So I sit here asking myself why walk away? Something isn’t adding up. Two races in Xfinity is a waste. If missing 18 races last year left him behind the competition what is the point getting in the car twice a year to be uncompetitive? Why did he even bother coming back this year? Only to walk at the end of this season IDK so confused but it really doesn’t mater in the big picture he is walking away I myself will watch less races because of it I know this to be true because of last year when he was out I lost interest in the races. Before I wouldn’t miss a race now if I am doing nothing I might check in on it but I will not be as driven to drop everything and watch every week or even attend races every year. Thanks for the adventure Dale Jr the highs and the lows good luck in what ever you do next it will never be the same without you on track.
    Dennis Jr

  4. Well done Jeff
    I sobbed myself into a migraine today.
    And I’m a Kurt guy, but I got great respect and yes, even love for Jr, or at least the idea of Jr.

  5. Great insights, Jeff. Thank you.

    I would say to Jr, “I’m not disappointed in you or your decision.” If I had the chance, that’s what I would want him to know. Change is hard for anyone, and Jr Nation is going to go through a lot of emotions over this, for sure. I guess that’s my biggest take away- things are going to change.

    What that looks like is anyone’s guess right now.

  6. True all around. Never met in person but his personality and real respect and his love for helping others is how I know him. I prayed hard for him to get better after his concussion and severe symptoms. I have a many of his past symptoms. If I could escape from them, I would too. The selfish part of me, knows the joy he brought to my week. And the reason I went to races. I was sick and didn’t hear about the news until 2pm. I guess it was meant to be that way. Love Dale for who he is, not just a driver, but it is a loss.

  7. Fortunately, Dale turned us on to some great racers before he retired, and he undoubtedly will turn us on to some more in the years to come. I think it is awesome that he lifted Truex, Jr and Brad K into the upper levels and is working on Bowman and Byron and others. No doubt those NC residents that happen into a Dale Jr appearance in a LMSC will value those days, and I wish I could be there for that.

  8. He stay alot longer than I expected​ after his dad died. He has Amy now and it’s time for a new chapter. I bet if Dale hadn’t died he’d have to few championships

    1. I agree with your statement, I believe between his Dad losing his life and the termoil with DEI he had a lot to deal with.

  9. Can understand the emotions of Jr Nation. Felt same way when my favorite driver Morgan Shepherd announced his retirement… Um wait, nevermind. #74andgoingstrong

  10. Dale has really let fans get to know him the past few years since he went full force on Social Media, for that I know many are truly grateful. I know I am. He’s smart, kind, driven, and talented in so many ways. His heart and soul are unmatched and he’s taken on such a burden in his life, but he’s also accepted that a lot rides on him, more than it should. His contributions are just beginning and I’m excited for him. I think we haven’t seen anything yet like the future holds. He’s got fans worldwide and we’ll be waiting. @ColMotorFans

  11. I remember being younger and hearing the excitement in my dads voice when he said, Little E is going to be racing this year with Earnhardt and Gordon. That was the 2000 Daytona 500. I remember watching the whole 2001 Daytona 500 with my dad and watching the exciting then gut wrenching final lap. After that day Dale Jr was mine and my dad’s driver. I will forever remember our Sundays and occasional Saturday nights watching Dale Jr race. To me those are personal memories I will cherish forever.

    It is better sweet to know he wanted this and not have him taken away like his dad was.

  12. No disrespect to Jeffrey, but it’s going to bee very strange to see a race that doesn’t have an Earnhardt in it.

  13. ???????????????? I can’t quite bring myself to being happy yet. I have yet to watch the whole conference but when one reporter ask IF he had won a race would this still be happening he couldn’t say yes. Every conversation I’ve heard was he’s having fun, he wants to race several more years. Now all of a sudden #BOOM he’s retiring at the end of the season. I’m with a bunch of other people, I can’t wrap my brain around it. I watched Race Hub & NASCAR America and they are saying they’re not shocked or they saw it coming….. Where, where did they see it coming from? It’s gotta be because he is running so poopy this year. I want to scream????, cry???? and just beat the crap out of “bad luck” (if that was even a possibility) My emotions are ????????????????????????????????????????

  14. With Gordon & Stewart retired and Dale Sr long gone, as an older (mid-50’s) race fan, Dale Jr is the last NASCAR driver I really had an emotional investment in. They were my favorites. Nothing against the younger drivers, there’s several I do like and cheer for. But it still feels like my era is fading away. I’ve cried a lot today and will cry more this season and probably Daytona 2018 too. I will miss Dale jr terribly. But I love and respect Jr and wish him & Amy all the happiness in the world. He deserves it. I just hope he stays around in the sport, hopefully in the TV booth somehow.

  15. Good, but he won’t be gone, we will still hear about this over rated person, who if most people were honest would say they were clinging to the father due to his death. But they won’t say it, or the whole EARNHARDT thang. He is a nostigla driver, who could do no wrong and sadly will continue to consume space in the booth and print media..due to his birth name. Brenda Gee was smarter than them all! Cha-Ching.

  16. Jeff, has anyone drawn any parallels with Jr’s retiring from the sport and what effect that may have with how his father’s death affected NASCAR? The reason I ask is that there seems to be an element of the fan base saying “it’s over now” and reporter’s like Jenna Fryer seem to think NASCAR has a huge problem on their hands with the news of Dale Jr’s announcement. Isn’t there something of a precedent here, or am I all wrong?

    It seems to me that I recall there was similar talk about the sport losing its biggest star at the time and how that was going to potentially gut the sport. Obviously, the argument could be made that Jr himself was the answer to my question as it pertains to history. So, are we looking for “the next Jr?” I think we’ll all be looking a long, long time.

    So, maybe there is no real parallel here. I just find it interesting to consider.

  17. Jeremy Patterson Sherry Bickford Trauth Donald Don Trauth Lisa Maloney and all others..
    Speechless..just want to cry
    What do u do or say when the driver voted most popular walks away ? Heart is BREAKING. It will not be the same with Earnhardt on the track. I am so gald that he was able to walk away and retire as himself . It’s so bitter sweet. You just never know if he was going to either make you mad,cry, or laugh but the one thing is true he is always loved. He has done so much for racing. He showed us that doing something can been easy as long as you are being your self and hardwork pays off. He may have not won a championship. From all us we love you and grateful for what you do in a race car every Sunday. For that you are FAN CHAMPION and that gives the best reward,then that trophy DALE JR. YOU HAVE WON ARE RESPECT, LOVE, AND ALL OF HEARTS IN THE NASCAR FAMILY!!!THANK YOU FOR LETTING US RIDE WITH YOU ON AND OFF THE TRACK..❤❤❤????????????????????????
    YOU WILL BE MISS!!!!!!
    ????????????YOU ARE NUMBER#1 OUR IN HEARTS ????????????
    ???????????????????????? 1#ON THE BLACKTOP ????????????????????????

  18. Dale knows what is good for both himself and his family. He may love the sport/team/crew, but he’s also faced his own mortality with the injury he sustained last year. He has many interests/businesses, so I doubt he will be bored. I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do next.

  19. I want Jr. to enjoy his life and his new marriage and hopefully children. I think he wants to be a very present Father not distracted or obligated to the rigorous Cup schedule like his Father was. He’s the last of the good ol Southern boys. I remember when he was on TV so excited that he got a deck on his doublewide. He has not changed despite his wealth and that is why so many love him. While I will miss him in Cup, I will keep up with him and I am so glad he is doing what he wants.

  20. NASCAR is going to feel this shock at every single track next year. It’s too bad Jr doesn’t have an 18 year old son in the Xfinity winning races. Every track I’ve been to has been 90% Jr Nation. If 75% of them keep showing up, I’d be totally surprised.

  21. Great article Jeff!! When I heard I was sad ???? and cried. Than last night listened to Dirty Mo Radio. As always Dale Jr. was worried about his fans. I’ve always felt he has been too worried about making JR Nation happy. So much so that he worries about letting us down because he feels he hasn’t been racing good enough. To me a true fan would know he’s doing his best and face it none of us know the pressure of being a NASCAR driver. I feel lucky to have been able to watch him since he started racing and am grateful for the memories. Most of all I’m happy he was able to go out on his terms. Yes I’m sad for selfish reasons but happy for him and excited for what the future holds for him and Amy.

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