My dad was just as much an iconic figure to me as he was to his fans. He was rugged, tough, always wore boots, and never backed down from a challenge. I looked up to him, and no amount of time with him was ever enough. That's why I always loved the photo of us at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1981. Daddy crashed out just 31 laps into the race, and he wasn't too happy. Back then the only way to get to and from the infield was by crossing the track pavement, and if the cars were on the track, you were stuck. So we watched the rest of the race from the infield, where it became exceedingly hard for me to hide the fact that I was more excited that I got to spend 469 laps with him than disappointed that he only completed 31.
We became a lot closer when I started racing. For the first time, we were at the same track every weekend, shared the same problems, and related to the same things – as race car drivers, as unofficial teammates, as Earnhardts. My admiration for him was documented in a column I wrote for NASCAR.com my rookie season. It was called "Dale Earnhardt: Through the Eyes of his Son." I poured my heart and soul into it. When I was done, I rushed over to Daddy's office to let him read it. It was one of the coolest father-son moments we ever had.