He is NASCAR royalty but today Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he is putting the brakes on his career. KCOY 12 visited the Santa Maria Raceway to see how fans are taking the news.
“We’re here today to confirm the news that I’m making this my last season as a NASCAR Cup driver,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
Dale Jr. has paved the way for young race car drivers. “He made it big, why can’t I make it big,” driver and Orcutt native Dylan Thornton said. “I’m 15 years old now.”
Dale Jr.’s professional career has spanned more years than Thornton has been alive.
“I started racing when I was 6-years-old, started racing go-carts on the asphalt, then started racing them on the dirt,” Thornton said.
Like Earnhardt, Thornton’s career started with a little help from others. Thornton’s grandpa gave him his first race car when he was 14 years old and his career has been taking off.
” I was able to pick up rookie of the year and the championship last season, 2016 then this year I was offered a full ride with a late model which is a pretty big deal,” Thornton said.
The Righetti High School sophomore is trying to ride this success and hopefully become the next Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I’ve always liked Earnhardt, the end goal has always been to end up there, in NASCAR,” Thornton said.
Thornton says he saw this retirement coming from a mile away.
“I actually thought he was going to retire before this season when he got those couple of concussions last year,” Thornton said.
KCOY 12’s Sean Larsen also caught up with 30-year-old driver Justin Crockett who recalled the time when he met Dale Jr. in North Carolina.
“I wasn’t even a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I was a Jeff Gordon fan, so he actually turned me into a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan,” driver Justin Crockett said.
Crockett says he was pretty star struck as he got Earnhardt Jr.’s autograph.
“As a kid your eyes are big and you don’t know what to say, I mean what do you say,” Crockett said. “It kind of stings because Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver there is.”
“I like racing a lot, it’s weird, everyone asks me if I play sports, I say no, I drive race cars,” Thornton said.