During my lengthy tenure as a writer for Frontstretch, the editors have often reminded us (the writers) that no matter what our past experience is with NASCAR, we should always strive to appear as journalists first… fans second. While I have usually succeeded in following that directive, longtime readers know that, being the rebel that I am, I have never hidden the fact that Dale Jarrett is my favorite NASCAR driver. So tday, I have been given special permission to ignore that directive and wear my heart on my sleeve (of my fancy UPS jacket, of course!)
I have never been the type of guy that has “heroes,” but if I were, Jarrett would have been one. There is just nothing not to like about the man. While he may not have the record of some of the other NASCAR icons, he is a past champion (along with his dad, Ned) and is described by all who know him as one of the classiest guys ever to take to the track.
With that in mind, Friday, October 12, 2007 was a day that, while I knew it was inevitable, I prayed would never come. Alas, time catches up with all of us; the great Dale Jarrett, now 51 years old, announced that after the first five points races of the 2008 season, he is calling it quits.
“This is obviously a decision that required a lot of thought and consideration, and it is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” said Jarrett. “I’ve been fortunate to have one of the best NASCAR sponsors in UPS, and I’m first and foremost a competitor. The desire to compete is the reason why I have continued as a driver in the Nextel Cup Series. But I’ve come to the decision to get out of the racecar, and while I’ll miss being a driver, I am looking forward to the next phase of my life and career.”
The decision to run those first five regular-season races next year in and of itself demonstrates the man’s loyalty and dedication. While many people thought that DJ should have hung it up after leaving Robert Yates Racing and the fabled No. 88 UPS Ford, Jarrett dedicated himself (and his six past champion’s provisionals) to help Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota get a foothold in their premiere NASCAR Nextel Cup season, a season which has been fraught with disappointment – Jarrett has failed to qualify 11 times over the course of the season. DJ, however, never one to give up, will once again attempt to get the No. 44 into the Top 35 in owner points before he hands over the reins to David Reutimann and heads to the broadcast booth, much the same as his father did many years ago.
Not only is DJ loved by millions for his actions on the track, but he is also respected and liked by millions of people who have no interest in NASCAR at all, through his commercials for his longtime sponsor, UPS. Who can forget the little boy in the shopping mall who vows to hold his breath until Dale agrees to drive “the truck?” Dale simply looks around, then reaches out and pinches the boy’s cheeks together! Problem solved! I don’t care if you are a fan or not, that is simply one of the best NASCAR-related commercials ever made. You can’t do that with just anybody.
There simply isn’t the time or space allotted here for me to list all the positive things that Jarrett has brought to the sport of stock car racing. His career and personality both speak for themselves. Three Daytona 500s. Two Brickyard 400s. One Nextel Cup title. But perhaps most importantly of all, he is one of those guys that everybody seems to like, in life as well as in racing.
While it is true that we as fans will get to hear and see Dale for many years to come as a race analyst, somehow, after the spring Bristol race, for a diehard DJ fan like myself, a little piece of me will retire as well. Yes, I have a replacement favorite, for I knew this day would surely come, but somehow it won’t be the same.
Thank you, Dale Jarrett. I will always wear my No. 88 UPS apparel with pride. If I had a “hero,” you’d be it!
Stay off the wall,