When he was in his early 20s and racing in the Xfinity Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was just starting to come into his own as a NASCAR driver. Right around that same time, the 15-time Most Popular Driver also started smoking cigarettes, just like his mom, uncle, and grandparents before him. While Junior has since kicked the habit, he recalled in an interview with NBCSports.com that it was is dad, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., who had the biggest problem with him smoking in his early days.
“When I was a kid, everyone seemed to be smoking except for dad for whatever reason. He just never did,” Dale Jr. said. “He knew I did, and I never, ever would have let him see me holding a cigarette. He hated it. We never had a conversation about it. He might have said a few times, ‘You need to effing quit that.’ Or something like that real short.”
“I know that was something that extremely disappointed him.”
When Junior started dating his now wife, Amy, he was still an avid smoker. She put up with it for a few months, but much like Dale Sr., she disapproved of the habit. Now, Dale Jr. credits Amy as the chief reason that he stopped smoking around eight years ago.
“I was trying to quit and tried a couple of times and failed, and it was so disappointing for her,” Earnhardt said. “Eventually she said to me, ‘Look man, are you really going to get this done? Are you really going to eventually quit?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if I can.’ And she goes well, ‘Honestly, that could be a dealbreaker for me.’ And I said, ‘Damn, really?’”
“She said, ‘Yeah, if you’re not sure, and this is something that is going to be part of our relationship going forward, I just don’t know. So that was a tough conversation that had to be had, and I finally figured out how to get it out of my system when I truly wanted to quit. You have to have that conviction to do it, but it was really, really hard.”
These days, Junior not only feels healthier, but also more actively social, whereas before he’d “just sit in the house and play video games” because it allowed him to smoke. Considering that a lot folks go decades and decades before kicking the habit or even go their whole lives as smokers, Junior can go on living a long and smoke-free life. Good for you, Dale!
This post was originally published on May 21, 2019.