Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent his whole life chasing meaningful rewards.
He waited longingly for a pat on the back from his famous father, worked diligently to generate compliments from crew members and other drivers and reveled in the roar of his fans — those he inherited from his father and the new ones he brought along for the ride.
NASCAR's longtime fan favorite received the sport's biggest honor Tuesday, being selected to join his father in the series' Hall of Fame. Earnhardt will be inducted in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with the late Mike Stefanik and 87-year-old Red Farmer, who is planning to race on Talladega's dirt track this weekend. Ralph Seagraves was named the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to the sport.
Despite never winning a series championship, Earnhardt still received 76% of the votes cast on the modern era ballot.
“Just talking about it, it's really emotional because I feed off affirmation," he said wistfully. “It’s such a great feeling to know people think I made an impact. I know what my numbers are and I feel like I was chosen because of that but also for the impact I made off the track, being an ambassador for the sport."
Being an Earnhardt name certainly comes with its advantages.
Junior's grandfather, Ralph, went into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 and was named one of the NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Junior's father, The Intimidator, also made the list and even before finishing his career with 76 wins and a record-tying seven Cup titles.
The team-owning father even gave Dale Jr. his first big break, a full-time ride in the Busch Series in 1998. It didn't take long for Junior to prove he was a natural — on and off the track.