BROOKLYN, Mich. - A father who lost his son on his way to the track and son who lost his father on it both tasted victory Sunday on Father's Day.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the phone with his boss Rick Hendrick before he stepped out of his car in Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s first time there in 143 races and four years.
Earnhardt Jr. was born into a racing family, now in its fourth generation. It began in Kannapolis, North Carolina with Ralph Earnhardt and now stretches all the way to Jeffrey Earnhardt, who has made two NASCAR Nationwide starts in 2012.
Dale Jr.'s whole life has been racing, growing up watching his dad win races and championships. Jr. grew up with his father on the track and also lost him there. It was as he pushed his Dale Earnhardt Incorporated teammate Michael Waltrip to the 2001 Daytona 500 win that his father's car crashed into the Turn 4 wall.
Earnhardt Sr. was pronounced dead that day, at a hospital outside the mecca of motorsports.
Rick Hendrick created his racing family. Hendrick built his first car as a tween, became a team owner in 1984 and has since won numerous championships. His son Ricky followed in his father's racing footsteps, first as a driver then as an owner.
But like Dale Jr.'s dad, Hendrick's son was lost in the pursuit of his passion. Ricky Hendrick died in a plane crash on his way to Martinsville Speedway in 2004.
Nine people associated with Hendrick Motorsports died in that crash, including Rick Hendrick's twin nieces.
"Everybody on that plane was special. And there'll always be a hole in your heart for all of them," Hendrick told USA Today in 2005.
Dale Jr. and Rick Hendrick are two men whose lives are each entrenched in the rubber of the racetrack and the family bonds created through them. Each suffered great loss associated with what they love.
Sunday a black Chevy was back in victory lane. It was driven by Junior on a day reserved for fathers. You can't help but remember Dale Sr.'s black No. 3.
Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick aren't bonded by blood but Junior delivered Hendrick a Father's Day gift - and you can only imagine, somewhere up above, the father and son they lost were casting down smiles.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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