His Grandfather is a NASCAR champ, and his Father? A seven-timer. Cup Series Champ, that is. Is he following in their footsteps? Is he good enough? Does he make his coveted family name proud?
I can’t imagine the pressure associated with the pressure to perform in racing just because who you are related. And don’t even think of NOT representing your family like everyone thinks you should, because you will never hear the end of it.
You know I speak the truth. I don’t care if it’s an Earnhardt, Elliot, Petty, Allison, Foyt, Wallace, or Bodine. Some of the drivers in these mentioned families have been put under some serious pressure to make their namesakes proud, plus the millions of fans who followed their predecessors and other family members.
The most obvious, and the most popular by far, are the Earnhardts. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is under pressure to perform strongly in the sport of NASCAR. I think the pressure he’s under is unprecedented. Especially when he performed under par in his career, fans were that much more critical, too.
Earnhardt Jr.’s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, came into the NASCAR world in its beginnings. Not only could he race, but he was a master car builder. Perhaps many don’t recognize the name “Ralph” because NASCAR didn’t gain popularity until the days of Ralph’s son, (Ralph) Dale Earnhardt. He took it a step forward by winning the record-setting seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships (tied with Richard Petty).
A life-changing event for the Earnhardts and their fans alike happened when Dale Earnhardt lost his life in 2001, the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500. Perhaps this put even more pressure on his son who carried his name, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. receives much slack from fans when he has not done well. Even last year in 2013 when he finished fifth in points, fans were disappointed because he didn’t do better, and he didn’t get a win. That seemed what his fans wanted to see the most – their favorite and most popular driver taking the checkered flag first.
They didn’t have to wait long this season. Dale took the win at the Daytona 500, and is currently fourth in points, 26 points behind the leader and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon.
Another prominent name in NASCAR is the Pettys. Lee Petty started it all, winning the first ever Daytona 500 in 1959. He also won the NASCAR Cup Championship three times.
His son, Richard “the King” Petty, kept the momentum going, and then some. Not only did he have 200 wins – the most ever in NASCAR – he is tied with Earnhardt for the most Winston Cup Championships at seven.
Kyle, Richard’s son, attempted to continue a fine racing dynasty going, but did not have the same luck as his father or grandfather.
Kyle’s son, Adam Petty, was tragically killed at the young age of 19 at New Hampshire Speedway during Nationwide practice. He was an extremely talented young man, and had a promising NASCAR career. He was also the first driver ever to carry on to the fourth generation in the sport of NASCAR.
The Petty’s created a charity in memory of Adam – the Victory Junction Gang. From its website at victoryjunction.org, the “Victory Junction enriches the lives of children with serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering, at no cost to children or their families.”
Another notable family in NASCAR is the Allison family. Bobby Allison, in the height of his career, was one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in the sport. He won in the Cup series 84 times, and is a Cup Championship winner, too.
His brother Donnie is in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and his son, Davey, had a notable career that also ended tragically when he died in 1993, a day after he was in a horrible helicopter accident. He is also one of the 50 Greatest Drivers of the sport.
There are many other families that are prominent throughout NASCAR’s history, including the Jarrett, Wallace and Bodine families, to name a few, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the France family.
Bill France, Sr. created the sport in Daytona Beach in 1949. His son, Bill France, Jr., took it from it’s humble beginnings to the popularity it enjoys today, gaining a sizable National audience.
Brian, the next generation of the France family, was pivotal in the creation of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC, in which both his father and grandfather have a well-deserved spot.
Brian France still reigns as CEO of NASCAR, and will continue to do so for quite some time, in my opinion.
Some fans think he changed too many major rules this season (infraction system, Chase rules, and qualifying format), but I am sure he had a method to his “madness.” I have been very critical of Brian France in recent years, but one thing is for certain – ratings have dropped in the past several years (the reasons as to “why” could be a whole article in themselves), and I think this may be his way of attempting to get them back. A last ditch effort? Maybe.
One thing is for sure, though – the sport of NASCAR has evolved over generations, with several families, some mentioned in this article, having a crucial role in bringing the sport from its humble roots to what it is today – an incredible empire, and a sport that Americans love.