Famed stock car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made a pit stop at The American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., to visit players and fans. He walked on to the field at Keeter Stadium on Aug. 19 to receive an official ALWS jersey, to shake hands with many of the players and speak to Legion staff.
The 2013 competition season marks Earnhardt's 14th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the North Carolina native is popular among race fans. For each of the past 10 years, Earnhardt has received NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award for the Sprint Cup Series. His popularity has earned him a spotlight on magazine covers, television shows, music videos and major motion pictures. But he turns the spotlight away from him when it comes to U.S. troops.
Since the National Guard became a co-sponsor of Earnhardt's No. 88 car six seasons ago and opened the door for Earnhardt to build a relationship with the troops, he has been visiting Walter Reed Medical Center and many military bases.
"It's an emotional tug of war when you go (to Walter Reed Medical Center), but being able to have a moment to listen to the soldiers that are there getting care, to give them an opportunity to share their stories with you about sports or whatever they want to talk about, to give their mind a break from what they are dealing with at the time is really what it's all about, and it's something that I enjoy doing," Earnhardt said. "You see a lot of soldier's in a lot of pain going through some very difficult situations, both physically and mentally. But you also see a great support system and amazing staff truly dedicated to giving each individual the best quality of life going forward and that's a good feeling.
"Overall, I get to interact with troops in a wide variety of ways. That's really the meat and potatoes of our relationship so to speak — when we get a chance to be one on one with the soldiers, and we get an understanding of their commitment, what it's about, what it entails and why they made that sacrifice. For me, visiting with soldiers is really fulfilling. It makes the sponsorship with the National Guard worthwhile, and it's something I take a lot of pride in."