The influence that Dale Earnhardt had on the sport of NASCAR
went above and beyond the fans and other competitors. Earnhardt frequently impacted decisions made by the NASCAR head honchos. When Earnhardt spoke, everyone listened. It wasn’t uncommon for Earnhardt to express concerns and call for changes to be made regarding several issues throughout his career. And even if NASCAR disagreed with Earnhardt, they would at least give his concerns due consideration.
That’s the power that only certain personas in NASCAR can encompass. When Earnhardt tragically passed away five years ago, the leadership that he possessed passed away as well. Since then, NASCAR has been without a spokesman, someone who can impact the decisions that are made. No one has really stepped up and said to NASCAR, ‘this is how it has to be!’
After Earnhardt’s death, Jeff Gordon inherited the throne as the most accomplished driver in the sport. His accomplishments were analogous to Earnhardt’s, so naturally it was expected that he become NASCAR’s next ambassador. While Gordon is highly respected by everyone in the garage, he doesn’t quite have the personality to take on that particular role. Earnhardt never minced words, and was extremely dogmatic, sometimes to the point to where he drew the ire of NASCAR officials as well as other competitors. Earnhardt never hesitated when speaking out against NASCAR and other drivers. Gordon doesn’t express his self in that same forceful and candid manner. Sometimes, in order to grab the attention of the NASCAR big wigs, you must aggressively make your point.
When Tony Stewart spoke out about the issue of bump drafting last week at Daytona, it was reminiscent of Earnhardt. His exact quotes were “Five years from now, we’re probably going to have to do another tribute to another driver because we’re probably going to kill somebodyÃ¢Â?Â¦”It could be me. It could be Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. It could be anybody out there.” After meeting with Stewart, NASCAR decided to police the bumpdrafting by using spotters as a source of information, which will determine possible penalties levied to drivers.
This isn’t the first time that Stewart has sent a message to NASCAR.
Stewart has often been compared to Dale Earnhardt, mainly because of his aggressive driving style and brash personality as well as success on the racetrack. I have always shrugged off any comparison to Earnhardt, mainly because Earnhardt had a lot more control over his emotions than Stewart and would have handled certain situations more appropriately.
But now it has become clear that Stewart has stepped up as NASCAR’s lead spokesman. Not only is he the most intimidating figure among active drivers, but also he isn’t afraid to speak out to or against NASCAR. Though he’s not an exact facsimile of Earnhardt, he indubitably possesses comparable qualities and traits that make for a great leader. If anyone is going to outspokenly bring to attention the issues of importance to NASCAR, it’s most likely going to be Stewart.
Like Earnhardt, Stewart has become well respected in the garage area. Just ask long-time veteran Mark Martin what he thinks of Stewart. After last year’s Ford 400 in Homestead, Martin gave Stewart the complement of a lifetime when he referred to Stewart as the greatest driver of our generation.
Along with his seven championships and seventy-six career wins, Earnhardt’s leadership skills are apart of his legacy. If Stewart is able to handle the go-to-guy role, then he’ll be able to leave a lasting impression that only a handful of drivers have left.