Thanks Dad


Dale Jarrett (R) and Ned Jarrett after Dale won his first of two Brickyard 400s on August 3, 1996. (Photo: Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. - It's fitting that Father's Day falls in the middle of the auto racing season. The relationship between fathers and sons -- and daughters -- has played a prominent role in the sport's legacy.

Thousands of families have made their mark in racing, many handing down to the next generation the passion and excitement that is so much a part of the sport.

To list the famous names associated with racing is to walk through the sport's hall of fame -- Andretti, Petty, Unser, Earnhardt, Villeneuve, Jarrett -- names that have been synonymous with motorsports for decades.

They say once racing gets into your blood you're hooked for life.

"There has never been any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a professional driver," said Dale Jarrett, son of two-time NASCAR champion Ned.

"I played other sports in high school and I enjoy other athletic activities now in my adult life. But I was always around racing because of my dad and I never wanted to do anything else."

"Passing the family business from one generation to another is very common," Kyle Petty said. "In the Petty family, the business was and is racing. It's all we know and all I wanted since I was a little kid playing with my toy cars in the dirt or then being able to drive a go kart. I've loved racing ever since I can remember."

Watching your child follow in your professional footsteps is no doubt a rewarding experience for any parent. But competing against them at more than 200 mph adds a unique twist.

"I remember the first time Michael raced and how proud I was watching him on the track," said the legendary Mario Andretti during a recent visit to Chicago. "But it was a bit strange when we wound up racing against one another.

"Once he got on the Champ Car Series, he and I had some tough battles on the race track. The first time he passed me, I just couldn't help but look up and say, 'Oh well, that's my boy.' But I immediately went to try and pass him back."

So the racing world joins the rest of the country Sunday in our yearly salute to dads. Whether it's a driver whose child grew up in the pits and followed him to a career behind the wheel or a motorsports journalist who was bitten by the racing bug at age three, after his father took him to his first race to watch his uncle compete, racing has a way of filtering through the generations.

I again do so without a father to share this weekend after losing my dad, Sam, in January 2009. For all of you who are also missing your fathers this mid-June holiday, remember the joy and love he brought to you always. I miss dad tremendously, but his memories and the sport he introduced me to live on forever.

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