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Random Lugnuts: Dale and Dillon

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Dale Earnhardt, Austin Dillon What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
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Random Lugnuts: Dale and Dillon

Bill Crittenden
September 8, 2009

The passage of time, and the fading of memories, is constant.  Older generations, people who find certain things near and dear to their hearts, move on, and new generations with new experiences just don't find some of the things their elders cherished as important.

Watching Austin Dillon drive the black 3 in the truck race last weekend, seeing the number and colors of Earnhardt Sr. return to at least one of NASCAR's top divisions, I began thinking "what if..."  Particularly, what if Austin Dillon makes it to Cup?  Here is what I've come up with:

It was a good thing to change the color and number of the car just after his passing.  No driver could fill those shoes, and no one wanted to see him just "replaced."  But as time passes, the idea of returning the 3, and not just any number three but a black Chevrolet with "his" #3, to Cup competition takes on a different meaning.  Even if it's not an Earnhardt behind the wheel, it still takes someone inspired by his career, someone aspiring to be "the next Dale Earnhardt" or to drive like him or act like him or pay homage to him to get in a car painted in his colors and number.

There's a difference between a driver who is "historic," which is one whose name is in the history books, and a driver who is a "legend," which is one whose presence can still be felt at the track nearly a decade after he left it.  As long as there's someone who wants to pay homage to Dale's colors and number by running them on the track, he will always be there, in spirit, for generations of fans to come.

While the younger generations don't cherish everything their elders hold dear, some things they can (and do), and what is adopted by the young gains in importance as the rest of the past fades into obscurity; what is remembered becomes how the younger generations define their elders.  That longevity is also how legends come to be.  Dale Earnhardt is coming to define an entire era in NASCAR, and he definitely qualifies as a legend.

At just under 30 years old, I'm from one of those younger generations.  I have only a few vague recollections of Dale Earnhardt, as I didn't "follow" the sport in his time, only watching the occasional NASCAR race in the 90's.  I was sitting in the stands behind the pits when he climbed from his car early at Indianapolis, and I remember watching the victory celebration on the news after he won the Daytona 500 (I missed the actual race).  Since I was of the younger generation, Dale Earnhardt was just not as important to me as he was to older NASCAR fans I know.  But seeing his influence remain on the sport over 8 years since his passing, I can see just how important he was to the sport, and how important he still is.  Maybe I'll be an Austin Dillon fan, maybe not, but either way I look forward to the return of the number 3 car to the Richard Childress Cup stable.

As far as an even younger generation goes, I doubt at 19 years of age Austin Dillon remembers a lot of Dale Earnhardt's career, but he certainly understands what it means, referring to the black #3 as, "a privilege to be able to drive."  But Austin's father, Mike (son-in-law of Richard Childress), certainly knows it's not just another number to the fans, saying, "we told him up front that he has to always remember the fans. The good thing about the truck is, the No. 3 won a championship with Mike Skinner. But we just have to be respectful to the fans about it."

Here are a couple of Earnhardt tributes I saw earlier this season at Wilmot Raceway in southern Wisconsin...

Joe Mauldin 2009 Wilmot Raceway Joe Mauldin
Wilmot Raceway Street Stocks: June 25, 2009

Photo ©2009 Bill Crittenden
View photo, 2,569KB
Austin Zdroik 2009 Wilmot Raceway Austin Zdroik
Wilmot Raceway Street Stocks: June 25, 2009

Photo ©2009 Bill Crittenden
View photo, 1,866KB

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