Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up about his return to the turn that took his Daddy’s life

FILE - This Feb. 21, 2001, file photo shows Dale Earnhardt, left, and his son Dale Earnhardt, Jr., watching from the pit area at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Roush Fenway Racing's seamless reaction in the wake of team owner Jack Roush's recent plane crash highlighted a relatively new concern for NASCAR teams: having a succession plan in place just in case the unthinkable happens to a team's leader. Roush and Hendrick Motorsports have shown that they can stay strong in the face of catastrophe, but the gradual downfall of Dale Earnhardt Inc. provides a cautionary tale. (AP Photo/Amy Conn, File)

As NASCAR fans prepare to usher in a new season of racing that will kick off with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, NASCAR drivers will climb into their cars still remembering the moment that took the life of Dale Earnhardt.

Dale Earnhardt died on Feb. 18, 2001, on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

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He was 49 years old.

As the years go by, the memory of that awful moment might be fading slightly, but it will never fade from the mind of his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. In a brand new interview with ESPN The Magazine, Dale Jr. told the interviewer the story of the moment he returned to the turn that took his daddy away.

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“The July after his father died, Dale Jr. headed to Florida early,” the story reads. “There used to be a week off before the Daytona summer race, and for years he and his buddies had enjoyed the beach before the crowds showed up. That year, when they got to town, they went to the speedway and found the gate open. Dale Jr. drove his Suburban onto the track. They were going about 35 when a security guard cut them off, furious. Then he saw who was driving. He let Dale Jr. finish the lap. They got to Turn 4. The skid marks were still on the track.”

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From there, Dale Jr. got out of his car and walked around the place that cruelly took the life of the man he looked up to. “If I had any issues, I was going to find out that moment,” Dale says in the new interview. “And I didn’t.”

He went on to win the Pepsi 400 that year and many after that. And this year, he returns to the track as a new man, newly married and healthy after a concussion he suffered in 2016.

And somewhere, his daddy is smiling.

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