Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to savor the moment in NASCAR Hall of Fame induction

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has seemingly always been a top vote-getter.

He headed the fans’ tally for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver Award 15 times, all consecutively, during his career. When the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel met in June 2020 to decide the next class, Earnhardt was again a popular choice, named on 76% of the ballots cast.

His reaction when his election to the Hall of Fame was revealed was a mix of nerves and emotion. More than a year and a half later after a COVID-19 delay, Earnhardt’s induction along with legends Red Farmer and Mike Stefanik is finally set for Friday (8 p.m. ET, live on Peacock).

RELATED: Dale Jr. through the years | Hall of Fame inductee list

Earnhardt said he didn’t expect to be anxious before his name was first called. Now, with induction looming, he still doesn’t have a firm notion about how the night will go, except to make sure to savor the moment.

“Oh, I don’t really have any expectations,” Earnhardt said last week, in between preseason test runs at Daytona International Speedway. “I’m just gonna go and enjoy, and I’ve got a lot of friends and family that’ll be close and be around, so I don’t know what to expect. I hope that it’s a great experience for myself and for Red and Mike’s family. I hope that we can move back — it’s nice to be able to sort of get this process going again for the next round of guys and girls to get inducted and start getting that process going again, because we’ve kind of been on hold for a while and had to push back a class.

“But I’m just … I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’m just going to go with a good, positive attitude and enjoy everything that happens, and I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of people that we haven’t seen in a while, so that’ll be fun.”

James Gilbert | Getty Images
James Gilbert | Getty Images

Earnhardt won 26 times in NASCAR’s top division, and he is a two-time champion in what is now called the Xfinity Series. He joins the Hall of Fame with his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was elected to the shrine’s inaugural class in 2010.

Earnhardt will be recognized alongside the late Stefanik, a nine-time champion who excelled in NASCAR’s Modified Tour and the former Busch North Series near his New England home. Stefanik, who died in an aviation crash in 2019, was the second inductee chosen on the Modern Era ballot.

The 89-year-old Farmer still races regularly on dirt tracks in the deep South, and his career spans generations of stock-car racing – from the sport’s earliest days to the current era. Farmer, a champion in Modifieds and the former Late Model Sportsman division, carried the vote on the Pioneer Ballot.

MORE: Red Farmer’s racing journey | Magical memories of Mike Stefanik

This is the first Hall of Fame class of three; the previous 11 classes consisted of five inductees each. NASCAR Hall officials announced Oct. 8, 2020, the Class of 2021 induction originally scheduled for last winter would be postponed because of COVID-19.

Friday night’s festivities will also recognize two special honorees. Ralph Seagraves, the colorful R.J. Reynolds executive who ushered in a dynamic period of growth in stock-car racing, will be honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. Bob Jenkins, a longtime broadcaster and voice for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will be honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

Earnhardt has joined his NBC Sports colleagues in commemorating his induction in the days leading up, sharing stories in brief video vignettes about the mementos that will be featured in the Hall of Honor. The exhibits for all three class members will be opened after a private first showing this weekend for the inductees and their families and guests.

It won’t be the first time Earnhardt has taken the stage at the Charlotte Convention Center for an induction night. That first came May 23, 2010, when his father was welcomed in as part of the first class.

Earnhardt was among the family members to speak on his father’s behalf, and he shared a story about their famous 1998 run-in late in an exhibition event in Japan. “And that was the day I met the Intimidator,” Earnhardt said to laughs from the crowd.

“It was nice. I got up there and said whatever I wanted to say,” Earnhardt said after the ceremony, expressing how the memories shared by others put him at ease. “… It really basically came from watching everybody else’s speeches and how everybody else was enjoying themselves. And the atmosphere was really, really good. And I thought Kelley (Earnhardt, his sister) and everybody did such a great job providing that for us. And the program went so smoothly, it was really no effort at all. There was really no nerves at all.”

Here’s another vote for an encore Friday night.