Among the shelves and displays at the many souvenir shops at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week are Tee shirts and caps for fans of Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, and Chase Elliot, NASCAR’s biggest stars.
But on the backs of the fans at the shops are well-worn shirts of their favorite drivers, and the vast majority of fans were wearing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this week. Some of the shirts just read “Dale Jr.” or just “Jr.”
Despite the fact that Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won NASCAR Winston Cup championship, there are many more Earnhardt Jr. shirts on display than those of any other driver. Vendors said Earnhardt memorabilia is outselling other drivers’ products by as much as 10 to 1.
The most popular shirt shows a caricature of Superman underneath “Dale Jr.”
Memorabilia dealers and buyers said it’s easy to explain, but there is no shortage of opinions about whether Earnhardt Jr. deserves the most attention. All agreed that his fans were also fans of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., who earned 7 NASCAR Winston Cup Championships before his death after a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Everybody loves ‘Junior’ because of his daddy,” said Richard Keenhold of Wind Gap, Pa., who said Earnhardt Jr. memorabilia is indeed outselling other drivers’ by 10 to 1 at his trailer.
“A lot of people would like to think he’s like his daddy, but he’s got the best cars, the best teams, and he can’t win. I don’t think he’s like his daddy at all.”
Jim Taylor of Charlotte, N.C., who said Earnhardt Jr. gear is outselling other drivers’ gear at his stand by a 3-to-1 margin, is not a fan of either Earnhardt, but said it’s understandable that many people feel loyal to Earnhardt Sr. and thus follow “Junior.”
“Having a name like Earnhardt doesn’t hurt him,” Taylor said. “He took a lot of his daddy’s fans with him, but I know a lot of Dale Sr.’s fans dislike him now for not living up to his daddy’s footsteps.”
Junior’s fans disagree. They say he’s hot this year, and could win this weekend’s Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday.
“Yes, we were with his father, and we are loyal, but most of us fans have been following Dale Jr. since he was racing go-carts,” said Diane Winter of Lisbon, N.Y., who was looking over the Earnhardt Jr. merchandise Friday.
“I like what Dale Jr. is all about, he’s old-school racing, and I think he’s a bit cleaner than his dad was,” said fan Steve Howie of North Smithfield, R.I., alluding to Earnhardt Sr.’s reputation for “bumping” other cars slightly during races and for his willingness to speak his mind.
Tom Gibson of Bristol, Tenn., said Earnhardt Jr. gear was outselling others drivers’ by 4 to 1 at his trailer.
“My wife never liked Dale Sr., she would leave the room when he raced, but she would always ask how he did when she came back in the room,” Gibson said, chuckling.
“A lot of people are like that, but Dale Sr. helped build NASCAR, and lots of us are loyal to that, and to what racing used to be. Dale Sr. could race any car, anywhere, but now every car has to be perfect,” he said.
After speaking negatively about both Earnhardts, Keenhold made one point clear.
“Ask me who I’m rooting for this weekend, and I’ll tell you Junior,” he said. “Not because I like him, but if he finally wins, I’ll be richer than I am now.”