When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. lost his life behind the wheel of his stock car, racing changed forever. Now with Dale, Jr. retiring, it again changes the game.

I became a NASCAR fan on that Monday after Earnhardt, Sr's fatal ride when we were asked to open up the phone lines at the station I was working at to take calls about his death. I had grown men crying on the phone telling me how much The Intimidator meant to them. I instantly felt the stock car racing hooks dig into me and have been a fan ever since.

Dale Jr. instantly became the most popular driver in NASCAR that day as his father's fans attached themselves to him in hopes he would carry on the legacy and fill the void their favorite driver once held.

As I moved into becoming a full-blown racing fan, I didn't gravitate to Junior because I've always rooted for the underdog. I put my passion into supporting racers like Steve Park and finally chose Kurt Busch as my driver, all the while respecting the talent and history of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

His father helped to mold NASCAR into one of the biggest spectator sports in history and it's remained at an all-time high thanks to driver like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Looking at recent history, Jeff Gordon hung up his fire suit in 2015, Tony Stewart in 2016 and today we got word the Junior will do the same in 2017. An entire era of NASCAR is slowly retiring and making way for a younger generation of fans that grew up screaming as each of them pulled to the lead in whatever race was that week.

Dale Jr. has been NASCAR's fan voted, Most Popular Driver for 14 years straight and I'd be willing to bet he gets the honor again in 2017, especially with his departure from the track.

Now I suppose fans of the Earnhardt racing family will spend their love on Jeffery Earnhardt, son of Kerry, as he tries to make a name for himself in the sport his family helped to build.

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