FYI WIRZ: Growing Up in Racing with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joie Chitwood III

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIJanuary 31, 2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiles during Daytona testing.  Credit: Dwight Drum
Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiles during Daytona testing. Credit: Dwight Drum

Second and third generations often follow the lead of their elders with reference to vocation, but in motorsports a career seems to take on extra flurry that attracts and keeps families around speed.  

This reporter was fortunate to be on the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, as that blitz-like event transported our media to the race shop, the CMS track and other convention press conferences. Interview opportunities were abundant.

At least 75 interview answers recorded by this reporter during this great tour will be a part of future output in FYI WIRZ.  This first report is about four individuals who grew up in motorsports—Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joie Chitwood III, Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon—sharing their childhood thoughts.

These four motorsports kids that grew up to contribute to racing in many ways, quickly commented on the past—like having a grandfather who was the first to wear a seat belt in the Indianapolis 500. Like eating cake as an eight-year old during the racetrack party for Richard Petty with President Ronald Reagan attending. For the brothers, it was jumping a fence as a kid to enjoy the thrill of Dale Earnhardt in victory lane at Daytona or simply relishing the atmosphere at every NASCAR racetrack.     

One question was asked of each: What are your best memories of growing up in motorsports as a child?

They beamed at the opportunity to share their memories of their early years with fans. To accommodate fans, their answers are complete without editing.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was first to answer:

“I’ve had a lot, but I’ve been talking about just one in particular, just to come to mind with Goody's announcement when Richard (Petty) won 200. I remember being at that race and we had this tent the infield where all the drivers and families were,” Earnhardt said. “I remember this picnic table eating off a red and white checkered table cloth—everybody eating cake and food and everybody partying. I’ve been to a lot of races and I was only eight years old or so. Been to a lot of races and never sat down and had dinner and cake after it. So it was really weird and surreal.  It was like a party for Richard and the president. They were sitting together at the table and all those drivers and all their families were there. That was just the weirdest thing.

“We’ve been talking about that a lot because me and Richard have been messing with the Goody's deal and everybody has been asking me about my memories with Richard . I had very few, but that one was one that stands out, because that was important for everybody to respect the president and his presence there. And obviously Richard’s 200th win.  I remember things like that.

“I remember one of my favorite things to do was to go to Bristol and go between the coaches, vans and haulers and there was nothing between you and the racetrack six yards, maybe. We’d sit on the back of those vans and watch the races, watch them tear all the cars up in the corners. We just loved it.  Me and Jason Jarrett and all those guys—we just ate that up.”   

Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway, had a vivid answer as well:

“I had very two very special opportunities for my career connected to my childhood when I got to be the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and my grandfather raced there in the '40s,” Chitwood said. “He actually finished fifth three times and was the first to ever wear a seat belt in the Indy 500. I used to visit Indianapolis when I was a young person. I was with him when he was honored with all the members for the 1946 race. I got to meet the old timers and got to see behind the scenes.

“Of course, then on to Daytona, I was born and raised in Tampa. My father had tickets to the Daytona 500 for over 26 years. I remember the Twin 125s as they were called back then, but more importantly on the day I was born in 1969 my mom was alone at the hospital. My dad wasn’t there. He was racing a car around Daytona International Speedway. So for me I’ve had a great family connection to motorsports.

“And now I look at the opportunity in front of us in terms of chartering a course for Daytona for the next 50 years with this potential redevelopment.  I’m excited because of my experience with Chicago and Indianapolis. I think I’m well-prepared for this.”

Legendary NASCAR owner Richard Childress has two grandchildren that have adapted well to the motorsports world as competitive drivers.      

Ty Dillon described victory lane:

“Probably when Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 is the first time for me remembering being in victory lane,” Dillon said. “We jumped the fence from MRO and ran down to victory lane and got to see all the champagne sprayed, do the hat dance, just that special moment of being winners of such a special race is really one that kind of me as how big and special this sport is and what we were able to do.”

Austin Dillon sensed an exciting environment as a child and still does:

“The bright lights, the fans, the media, the loud noises, the smell you get when you walk into a racetrack,” Dillon said. “I guess it’s the noises and sounds and everything that is around when you walk into a racetrack—that atmosphere. That’s what you love—the atmosphere that NASCAR brings and creates. That’s what I love to enjoy. When you pull into that track and you get the feeling—man, this is a NASCAR event. It’s pretty cool.”

The special atmosphere in motorsports gleaned from many breakout interviews will take various modes in reports to follow.

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.