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February 15, 2018

1998 Victory Lane moment with Earnhardt fueled Dillons’ drive


RELATED: Untold stories of Earnhardt’s historic win

Dale Earnhardt’s first and only Daytona 500 win came on Feb. 15, 1998.

In one of the Victory Lane photos, Earnhardt — dressed in his iconic Goodyear fire suit and red Daytona 500 hat — smiles broadly, one hand formed into a No. 1 and one hand on the Harley J. Earl Trophy that had eluded him for nearly two decades, two young boys to his right.

Twenty years later, the memories of that win ring strong with them. Those boys were Austin and Ty Dillon, grandsons of Earnhardt’s team owner Richard Childress.

“We were playing at MRO (Motor Racing Outreach) in the driver-owner lot and me and my brother were probably playing with our race cars truthfully and wondering why we were getting pulled away from what we were doing,” Austin Dillon recalled at Daytona 500 Media Day. “Little did we know, that picture in Victory Lane would be used for years to come.”

Austin Dillon was 7 years old at the time. His younger brother Ty was only 5. Earnhardt’s daughter Taylor was also in the frame.

“We had no clue what the importance of that race was, but we knew we were going to Victory Lane and we knew that was good,” Ty Dillon said. “I remember just the excitement and the fun — everybody was just so happy. Everybody in that fenced-in area was excited.”

RELATED: Scenes from the 1998 victory

The experience in Victory Lane with Earnhardt was more than a celebration for Ty. It was something that molded him, something that affects him even today as a driver.

“That hit me pretty deep, I think, at a young age,” he said. “I think from the time I stepped in a race car for the first time and won my first race, that’s when it hit me that this is what I want to do because I want to live that moment that I had when I was 5 years old in Victory Lane.

“Not really knowing the importance of the race, not really knowing anybody there, but that thrill of victory in that moment is what drives me still to this day to be a race car driver.”