Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. paid tribute to his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., on Sunday with a throwback photo of the racing legend.
"Happy birthday to the biggest badass that ever drove a racecar," Earnhardt Jr. wrote. His father would be celebrating his 67th birthday were he still alive.
Happy birthday to the biggest badass that ever drove a racecar. ? pic.twitter.com/gpl0D3Tpuh— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) April 29, 2018
Earnhardt Sr. died at the age of 49 in 2001 in the final lap of the Daytona 500 when he collided with fellow driver Sterling Martin. His car hit the outside wall, and doctors pronounced him dead instantly due to blunt force trauma to the head. This year marked the 17th anniversary of his passing, and Earnhardt Jr. reflected on his father's passing before serving as Grand Marshal for the 2018 Daytona 500 in February.
"When he passed away here, I had two choices: I could hate this place for it, or it could become even more special to me and I could become even more connected to it because of that circumstance," he said in an interview with USA TODAY's For The Win. "So I chose to embrace the track more. I knew how special this place was to my dad, so it's more meaningful to me personally, maybe, than to a lot of the other competitors as a cornerstone of our series and the birth place of speed and all the things — The Great American Race."
"But I made peace with this place a long time ago with what happened and decided to remember this as the place where he lost his life. So that's, to me, a positive, not a negative. I didn't want to feel any negative feelings when I came here because I love Daytona. I love this track, and I love the history. I want to be rooted in this sport, and that means I want to be at Daytona when they race here. So that was the choice I made a long time ago, and I feel very comfortable here. And I try to make him proud in everything I do," he added.
Earnhardt Sr. was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. He finished his career with seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and 76 career wins over 27 years in the circuit. His son had an impressive racing career of his own, finishing with 26 career wins in a 19-year career before retiring last year. He won the same race that took his father's life in 2004 and 2014.