Following the adjustments, Dale gives her the instruction to go back out for 25 laps and see how it feels, before returning back to his spot on top of the trailer so he could see the whole track.
He crosses his arms, watching intently as he watches her come up to speed, hitting the normal speed by the third lap out. He watches the rear-end twitch a little going into the corner, get right sideways almost drifting, before she backs out of the gas and gathers it back up before continuing.
“Damn….” She lets out over the radio as a small smile forms on his face. He couldn’t help but admire the throttle and steering control that she had in able to bring that back without spinning it totally. If he had denied it before, it was easy to tell that the Earnhardt racing genes had landed with her – to the point he had to be jealous a little with what she had just done.
“Not bad, not bad,” he states over the radio. “Do that again and see if you can clean it up a little more. You can’t be hanging that sideways over the course of a long green flag run at Michigan or any other intermediate.”
He then keeps his arms cross, cringing a couple times on corner entry in seeing how high she got in the middle of the corner with how loose the car was and how sideways he saw her get. However, as the runs kept being put together, he watched the sloppiness get cleaned up and she was able to hold a steady wheel, equally to anything else that he had seen on the track. While he had some original doubts, he had to admit that things were going according to plan with ease today.
As he gets ready to call it a day, he watches the back end, noticing the left rear is going flat from the abuse put on it through the beginning of the run – and the fact that they had done about 100 laps without changing tires, either. He watches as the tire finally lets go, the car goes sideways, back end coming inches within the outside wall, but she keeps it off before bringing the car down to the apron and onto pit road.
“That was amazing!” He lets out on the radio before climbing down the steps, big smile planted on his face as he makes his way out to pit road where the car was. “I thought you were going to get in the wall big time there. I don’t say this to a lot of people, but that car control impressed the hell out of me. You’re amazing, real amazing.” He then pauses for a second as the smile doesn’t seem to fade. “You fight back stronger attitude, your ability to drive that car sideways, everything – it reminds me of grandpa. I love you, kid.”
“I love you too,” she replies as she sits back in the seat in the car, letting out a sigh. She knew how much the compliment meant. She had heard stories about her grandpa and seen videos of the past days. She knew what the world thought of him, and now to hear her dad give her a compliment that worthy – it meant more than anything that day. “I think I’m ready to go win a race now.”
“I don’t see why not as you did amazing.” Dale glances over at the officials, seeing smiles on their faces, knowing what that meant. It was good to be back. “I also think some officials agree with me, too.”
“So can we go to Watkins Glen this week?” Dale freezes on the spot, jaw dropping at the question. He wasn’t expecting her to want to go racing that quickly.
“Sweetheart, you still have a lot to work through mentally, and I know you’re still healing physically. I think it’s best that we wait for you to be fully healed before going back racing, okay?” She lets out a sigh. She hated the answer as it wasn’t what she wanted, but she knew that it was for the best.
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“The schedule is Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Bristol, Road America, Darlington…..this is all tough tracks,” Kevin Meendering comments as he looks at the schedule on his phone. “There’s no easy come back in this stretch of racing.”
Dale knew that already, having peaked at the schedule himself. However, he also knew that she was qualified for the Chase with her wins earlier that season and with the medical waver, she’d able to compete for the championship when it kicked off at Kentucky. It didn’t matter to him, but he knew her thoughts would be to go for the championship and try to win it.
With that in mind, he knew that it wouldn’t be fair to make her wait till a week before or the week of Kentucky to make her come back, but whether give her a couple weeks to get back into a groove so she’d be ready for then.
“Trust me, I know,” Dale tells Kevin as he walks over to the crew chief. “Those burns should be fully healed in a week. I say we let her tackle Bristol first. I know it sounds like I’m sending her to the wolves, but I believe in my daughter. She can handle anything thrown at her, no matter how tough it is. She’ll be fine.”
“So I have to wait 2 weeks?” She questions as she walks over, joining the group as she had climbed out of the car during their discussion. “You, yourself, said that the burns would be healed by next week. Why can’t I do Mid-Ohio? Besides, a nice road course would be an easy comeback to get back into the groove rather than the grueling pressure cooker of Bristol.” Dale lets out a sigh as he knew that she had a point. However, if anything lingered, he didn’t want to set the date too soon. He also knew there were other things to take care of first.
“I know that you’re ready physically and I know that you can handle it, Alyssa. But ask Chase this question – what happened when he pushed the window of coming back too soon? He didn’t handle the emotions, pushed them to the side constantly, and ended up finding himself in a battle that he almost lost to himself. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. That’s why I’m suggesting that you spend these next two weeks focusing your energy on yourself and those emotions, and finding the common ground that you need to handle them easily. Then we can worry about everything else.”
Chase walks over, his mind flowing back to the first race of his return at Iowa Speedway.
“Chase, honestly though, how are you feeling?”
“I said I wa-”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about you mentally right now. I know what happened is affecting you and playing on your thoughts. You probably also may not be sleeping right through the might, again. Am I right?” Chase lets out a sigh as he looks up at the ceiling. This was a topic that he was hoping to avoid throughout the rest of the weekend.
“I can’t lie and say that it’s not bugging me. It is bugging me, a little. I got over the big part of it at the hospital in discussing what happened, but it’s still there. I don’t know…..” He then takes a deep breath, closing his eyes to erase the thoughts that he knew were forming there. “I’d rather not talk about it right now. I just want to focus on this weekend and racing. I want to have this weekend that I can….”
“Be free without any worries? Get that feeling that your life is back to normal and routine as it should be with hopes that it just disappears?” Chase looks over at his mom and shakes his head slowly. Beyond his desire to simply race, that was one of the big reasons right there that he wanted to be at the track and racing. “I get it, Chase. I understand. However, you can’t keep running forever. You need to face what happened and figure out the way for you to get through that. Whether that involves talking to someone, or getting your thoughts out in a diary, you need to do whatever it takes to get through it properly. And Chase, no matter what happens, know that you can always come to me because I will always be here for you babes.” Chase shakes his head as he knew that his mother was right, though where was he to begin? What did he have to do to get over it? He then flips over direction that he was laying, lying his head by her lap. Perhaps a discussion would help….
“Mom, why does it have to be so hard?” She then brushes some of his hair back.
“Because that’s life. Life has a way of throwing challenges at us at every turn. It’s up to us to figure out how to get through them. Rather than being mad about it, you need to tackle that challenge and figure out what to do for you.” That was why he had decided to at least discuss some of this…briefly….barely….but not with details. He couldn’t handle that as that would distract him from the weekend too much.
“But it’s just…unfair….” She then takes a deep breath as she looks down on him.
“Someone once told me that each challenge you face makes you stronger as a person. Now, you’re already a pretty strong, smart kid. But know that once you figure out your way through this, you’ll be stronger than ever, able to tackle whatever is thrown your way.” She then glances down with a smile as she notices his eyes are closed.
Leaning her head back on the back of the couch she glances at her phone and figures a good half hour nap was probably exactly what he needed.
“Trust your dad in what he is saying,” Chase speaks up, catching Alyssa’s attention. “I made my comeback to racing the last time as quickly as humanly possible. Why? Because I was using it as a distraction so I wouldn’t think about what happened….” Chase feels his breath hitch in his throat as he remembers the events of before and this time. “What Randy did and the pain I fel-”
“I’m not doing that…” She pleads and he shakes his head no. He knew otherwise.
“Keep telling yourself that, but we all know otherwise. You’re thinking about racing, thinking about me, thinking about those around you and what to do moving forward – rather than looking back and letting yourself face those emotions and that time. Trust me, I know because I did it myself. Want to know something, though? It catches up with you and in a bad way. I spent the rest of that season on edge, sometimes right on the verge of a nervous breakdown with the emotions eating at me from the inside. Obviously, you know what happened as a result. I don’t want you to face the same thing so that’s why I’m giving you the advice to do what you need to do – start handling it, and then we’ll look towards this racing thing.”
“We’re only doing what’s best for you Alyssa,” Dale tells her as he wraps an arm around her shoulder. She glances between them, prepared to argue once again but knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere.
“Fine,” she gives in. “I’ll listen.”
Dale smiled as he knew that was a good first step. He just hoped that both her and Chase took the next step.