The Washington Post

Lifelong Redskins fans Dale Earnhardt Jr. overwhelmed by chance to cheer, meet his football heroes Monday

Dale Earnhardt Jr. at last weekend’s NASCAR race in Michigan. (Getty)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Redskins’ fastest fan on four wheels, could have been mistaken for an equipment manager or locker-room attendant following Monday’s 24-23 preseason victory over Cleveland.

A lifelong fan of the team, Earnhardt attended the game with his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, and crew chief Steve Letarte the night after finishing fifth in Sunday’s NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.

Among them, only Earnhardt was permitted in the Redskins’ locker room. And NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver spent his time largely unnoticed, not seeking attention but just taking in the scene while looking quite small, at barely 6 feet and a lean 165 pounds, by comparison to the players around him.

“I actually try to get to a game every time I get a chance,” said Earnhardt Jr., 39, who spent much of his youth in the Norfolk area when there were no Carolina Panthers in his native North Carolina and virtually the entire mid-Atlantic claimed the Redskins as their own. “I love coming the preseason game because they’ve got all these guys trying to make the team.”

One among them, nine-year veteran defensive end Kedric Goldston, came over the introduce himself and say what an honor it was to meet him.

Ranked 28th among the world’s highest paid athletes, according to Forbes magazine, Earnhardt Jr. was out-earned by only three NFL players in 2013: quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Peyton Manning. On Monday, he hopped on his Lear jet to get to the game and headed back to North Carolina that night.

But he was reduced to a wide-eyed fan in the midst of the NFL players he follows so faithfully.

“Every time I come here I feel like a little kid in school,” Earnhardt Jr. said, as most of the Redskins scurried to get dressed as the clock neared midnight.

“I love being a fan. The experience that I get is overwhelming. It’s hard to even enjoy it because you just want to pass out, being overwhelmed by it. I can’t even believe where I’m standing right now.”

At the driver’s suggestion, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III served as the honorary pace car driver for the NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway in April.

Monday morning, Earnhardt Jr. tweeted at the quarterback: “It’s #GameDay @RGIII you ready?”

“Born Ready Brother!!!!” came the reply.

During the game Earnhardt Jr. was interviewed by ESPN, and he joined the Redskins radio broadcast early in the third quarter, just in time to call Kirk Cousins’ 14-yard touchdown strike to rookie Ryan Grant.

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. She has also covered seven Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.



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