Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a retired professional stock car driver and team owner. He is the son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a crash during the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
To Sixteen-Year-Old Dale Jr.,
Now, writing this letter to you is going to force me to think pretty deeply about my life, and you know thinking deeply was never one of your favorite activities. You always did and always will shoot for the C on your report card; anything more than that is always going to be a surprise to you, right?
You just got your driver’s license, your heart belongs to no one, and you’re going to spend a lot of nights in the bed of your S10 pickup truck out in the field staring up at the stars, worrying about your future. Your father’s accomplishments on the racetrack already cast a pretty heavy shadow over your existence. He’s going to accomplish more in the years to come and your fear of living anonymously and forgotten—that’s going to grow.
You don’t have much of a connection to your mother; your efforts in that regard are disappointing. In the future she is going to become a consistent and prominent figure in your life, but you shouldn’t waste the years in between. Because her love is the truly unconditional kind. You shouldn’t take it for granted.
Living under your father’s roof doesn’t bridge the incredible gap between you guys. In due time, you will enjoy the most incredible relationship with him. One afternoon after an accident, you’re going to go home thinking your career is over. And then bustin’ in through the door comes your dad, and he’s wondering what you’re doing sitting on your butt feeling sorry for yourself. And you are going to go out on the back porch and sit down and have a two-hour conversation that is the most influential conversation you’ll ever have with him. He is going to finally assure you of what lies ahead. It’s not the end of your career like you thought, it’s just the beginning of a very, very long, incredible journey.
You’ll share laughs and triumphs at his side. It’ll be in your best interest that when these times come, you get everything out of them that you possibly can. I mean, when it is you and him in that moment, you live it to the fullest.
Now, you want to be a race car driver, so let’s talk about the racing. As I look back on it as a whole, starting out from go-karts all the way to Cup today, it’s going to feel clunky and impromptu, and is going to be lacking in successes. But fortunately for you, every weekend there will be another race.
With that said, you’re going to be so deathly frightened of potential failure that you’re not going to realize just how much fun you’re having. You’re going to win a lot of races, and as painfully shy as you are, you’ll overcome and accomplish in arenas not just limited to driving cars. You’re going to meet presidents. You’re going to guest on late-night shows. I mean, it’s incredible—but it’s true.
That’s not too bad for an oil mechanic. Yes, you are going to change oil for a few years—and it’s not as bad as it sounds.
Overall, you just need to be more sure of yourself. You’re going to do great things, man. You’re going to have an awesome life. You have a great heart and it’s going to stay with you throughout. So don’t be so timid and worrisome about the future that you can’t enjoy the present. You’re there, worried about me here. You just need to have some fun, man. Jump in that S10, go down to Concord and cruise the strip. Because you’re going to be here soon enough.