Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t talk much about his father’s death. “I don't want people to know about that,” he says. "It's not their business to hear it.” But he opened up to Marty Smith for an in-depth profile in ESPN the Magazine. Junior spent his childhood fighting for his dad’s approval, and won it only by racing.
Junior was just beginning to feel accepted when his father crashed in 2001. “It’s the most unimaginable, worst thing ever,” he says. “You can’t be consoled, period.” Junior struggled with his father’s legacy for years. Now he’s left Dale Earnhardt Inc. and taken the wheel of his own life. “I think it's important that the fans know the initiative I've had over the past several years to become a grown-up,” he says. (Read more Dale Earnhardt Jr. stories.)