Sunday, September 21, 2008

Family Ties

Several of the NASCAR guys who are in the running for this year's Sprint Cup Championship were on the Regis and Kelly Show this week. Kelly asked why Dale Earnhardt Junior was consistently (5 years in a row) voted the Most Popular Driver. No one really gave a serious answer because, of course, the real answer wouldn't be politically correct, and that answer is that it's because his last name is Earnhardt. Does anyone believe for one minute that if he was Dale Jones, Jr. rather than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., he would win the popularity contest? There's no way - but you'll see few people acknowledging that fact, especially other drivers (or even the supposedly neutral media). In NASCAR, you just do not take Saint Dale's name in vain and that includes his off-spring.
Junior is a decent driver but he's done nothing to prove he isn't somewhere in the pack with other decent drivers. I wouldn't doubt that he doesn't improve his record and that he won't eventually win a championship, and more power to him if he does, but so far, he doesn't deserve the adulation he receives simply from being Dale's boy.
And commercials? Good Lord, I get sick of seeing back-to-back Dale, Jr. commercials on SPEED and ESPN. I hope Wrangler sells tons of jeans to Junior Nation because they might be turning off some of the rest of us with Dale over-kill. Earnhardt may or may not ever collect the big bucks that come from winning a Sprint Cup championship but he's definitely dragging in huge loot from peddling products (as well as his own memorabilia, the highest selling in all of of NASCARdom.)
I don't care that families frequently tend to establish dynasties in whatever profession an original member chose. I'd have gladly done the same and in fact, I have, although unfortunately, my father and grandfather before him specialized in being unstable rolling stones, more interested in having new experiences than consolidating the old ones. I know doctors and lawyers and politicians who followed in Dad or Grandpa's footsteps and some of them were just as good as Senior. But don't try to convince me that they didn't get a headstart from shoehorning their way onto someone else's success.
For one thing, they learn about their chosen profession through osmosis. Just hearing a parent talk about what life is like as a cop or a fireman or a senator gives them knowledge newbies have to gain on their own. Secondly, the parent is there to offer tangible help and advice. And, thirdly, and most important, they have contacts that ease their way into the world they are choosing to enter. How many people did Dale Earnhardt, Jr. come to know as his father's son who were happy to give the kid a hand up compared to drivers who've struggled up from nowhere, like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle? Lots of them and it is a huge advantage.
I bear Dale Earnhardt, Jr. no ill will. If he wins, that's fine. I don't care one way or another. Family ties only take you so far. Eventually, he'll have to prove himself as Junior and not Dale's son. But, in my heart, I root for the ones who had to start from the back of the pack without family advantages to smooth their way into Victory Lane.