Dale Earnhardt Jr. has spent the seven years since his father's death learning how to live without him. In the cover story for ESPN The Magazine, "All Grown Up," Dale Jr. talks in depth publicly for the first time about the pain of losing his dad, who was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. Writer Marty Smith reveals that since Junior left the family business, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (and affiliation with Dale Sr.'s third wife Teresa Earnhardt), for NASCAR juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports this season, he’s finally feeling like himself again.
On the loss of his father:
"When my dad died, I was numb, blind. I just kept moving. Going. Doing. It was horrible. The further away from it I get, the more I understand how I went through it."
"I didn't talk about it because it wasn't something I wanted to preach. 'Oh, I lost my Daddy, woe is me, and I gotta go through life without him.' I didn't want that message."
On his stepmother:
"I ain't got nothing against her. She might have something against me, I don't know."
"I am striving to be the total package. A mature, dedicated, motivated racecar driver."
On finding a "bring-home-to-mama girl":
"I'm looking for that mental connection, somebody who sees and understands me like my sister and my mom do. I want somebody who can read me like a book and is okay with half of it. I'm particular, and I want to be particular. It hasn't struck me yet that I should relax my standards."