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Wednesday, October 24
Junior represents a new generation
By Jack Arute

Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr.
Thereís no avoiding it. Dale Earnhardtís legacy lives on through his son.

The similarities are uncanny. Granted, Dale Earnhardt Jr. marches to a different drummer than his late father, but the basic beat is the same.

Dale Sr. took his "take no quarter and ask no quarter" style to the Winston Cup circuit after spending time wowing folks on what was then called the Late Model Sportsman tour. His son interned on the same circuit, albeit branded with an updated Busch moniker.

Both needed some rough edges polished before they conquered the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But once the shine was polished, they both marched through starting grids with a frequency and determination that captured fans' hearts.

Dale Sr.ís uniform was straight out of Urban Cowboy. Wranglers and rodeo belt buckles were the rage and Earnhardt embodied the "tough customer" image that swept the nation in the early 1980s. He was brash. He was daring. He let his driving deliver his message.

Little E represents Americaís Generation X. His uniform is a pair baggy jeans and a backward ball cap.

One reflected the pop culture of his era. The other embodies todayís societal issues.

Big E loved hunting and fishing. Little E enjoys the exploits of Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra.

Dale Sr. never started a race without a spare set of plastic goggles taped to a roll bar. Dale Jr. rides with a volleyball named "Wilson" strapped inside his Chevy.

In style and substance, the son is just like the father.

It has become obvious since the seven-time champion lost his life on the last lap of the Feb. 18 Daytona 500, that the stage may not have been big enough for two Earnhardts.

As long as Dale Sr. was around, Dale Jr. seemed content with brief moments of achievement; allowing his father the spotlight.

Left to pick up the pieces after his fatherís tragic death, Dale Jr. emerged from the shadows and methodically won the hearts of his fatherís fans while swelling the "Earnhardt Army" with a new generation of disciples.

When some questioned his July victory at Daytona, Dale Jr. remained silent -- much the same way his dad did for so many years when asked why he could not win the Daytona 500.

Little E let his run in last weekend's EA Sports 500 at Talladega, Ala., silence his Daytona critics. To those who thought his Pepsi 400 win was tainted, he said, "This put all those people in the beds they made."

While his fellow drivers groused about restrictor plates and NASCARís aerodynamic rules package on its two biggest tracks, Earnhardt Jr. let his last-lap blast past Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart say what his daddy used to say: "Just shut up and race!"

His Talladega victory came almost one year to the day after his father did the same thing at the same track to score his final Winston Cup win.

"I want to go down as one of the best," a grinning Dale Jr. told the media in his post-race news conference. "I feel good about my ability to drive race cars."

He should. The apple doesnít fall too far from the tree.

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