When the father and son team of NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. travelled to Daytona International Speedway to race in the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, they weren’t looking too far into the future.
The present was sweet enough.
Yet just two weeks later, fate would end up taking the life of Earnhardt in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500. In a recent podcast, Earnhardt Jr. reflected on what the Rolex race had meant to him, and how it might have sparked future plans for his dad if he would have lived.
“He loved that form of racing, which led to further conversations about wanting to (race the 24 Hours of) Le Mans,” Earnhardt Jr. recalls. “Going to Le Mans was going to be like the pinnacle for him. When I think about (the 2001 Rolex 24), sometimes I think about that, and sometimes I don’t. I just appreciate that we got to do that, before he was taken away from us. Because that was probably one of the first dominoes in a series of things that he might have wanted to do outside this life as a race car driver in NASCAR.”
In fact, the sad irony to all of this is that friends close to him now say that Earnhardt was only planning to run one more year of Cup racing.
“(Running LeMans) was his dream,” explained Corvette Racing manager Doug Fehanin the same podcast. “He was only going to run one more year of Cup. Then he saw himself to be able to compete a number of years. Not just a Le Mans race. He wanted to do more sports car racing.”
Oh how we would have loved to see that.