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What Is The Deal With The Late #3?

We saw this article about Dale Earnhardt Jr, who
thinks his late father pulled him out of the accident he had recently
, and
it reminded us of something we sincerely do not understand: why is Dale Sr. so
popular now when he seemed to be so thoroughly disliked when he was alive? It's
like he's a newer version of Elvis. Seriously, can anyone explain how this guy,
who was widely regarded as a dirty racer and who was, at best, an absentee
father, turned into a cult figure? You see almost idolatrous references to
Earnhardt all over the place, and it just seems at odds with the life he led and
the aura he had while living. Any NASCAR fans willing to clue us in?