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Happy Birthday, Isla; great job of raising your Dad

Isla Earnhardt turned one-year-old the day before May Day, so April 30 was more than a celebration. For her father, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it marked a milestone.

You see, it happened three days before Junior was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in Raleigh on May 3.

Among those Junior went into the Hall along with was Dee Kanter, the ground-breaking women’s basketball official (WNBA Supervisor of Officials; been selected for every NCAA women’s tournament since 1992, including 22 Final Fours; officiated in the NBA for five seasons).

“My mother is a huge Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fan,” Kanter told Jonas Pope of the News & Observer. “I got a picture with him years ago in Charlotte and she didn’t even see my face. When I found out I was being inducted and the group included Dale Earnhardt (Jr.), now it means something.”

While Junior did not attend the pre-induction press conference, he has spent the past week or so absolutely bubbling over with joy over his first round of parenthood.

Junior describes his daughter as “an incredibly happy baby,” and that she’s always giddy in the morning waiting for one of her parents (Junior, or Mom, Amy) to come into her room; and that it’s his favorite part of the day.

“And that,” he told interviewers, “sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

Junior’s keeping a busy schedule these days, so it’s no small wonder if some of his parenting duties fall a little bit short. Based on what I’m hearing, I’ll give him a mulligan.

Sunday, May 26, Junior will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, driving in “The Great American Race” for the first time. But it won’t be as a competitor in the field, it’ll be as ceremonial pace car driver, which is all part of his NBC Sports gig when the Peacock network takes over TV coverage of the Indianapolis 500. He’ll climb out of the car and head to the announcer’s booth where he’ll do commentary on the race.

In a pre-race interview, Junior shared how Isla is a typical teething toddler who likes to pick up things and put them in her mouth.

Thing is, Junior says the dear little one has grown a little too accustomed to putting rocks and sticks in her mouth.

“Obviously, I don’t want her eating rocks,” Junior told The Dan Patrick Show. “I’m getting the rocks out, she’s trying to put the rocks in. I’m just trying to make sure — I don’t know — I’m just trying to find out whether I need to be super concerned. Like, how critical is this situation? If she were to accidentally swallow a small pebble, is this something we need to rush to the hospital immediately (for)?”

And, since Junior’s just one-half of the parenting equation, it follows to hear where Amy stands on the situation.

“She’s there,” Junior continued. “She’s not as concerned as me, obviously, because she’s not on her phone Googling to find all these answers. But I’m that parent. I’m paranoid, worried to death. Mom’s like, this is not a big deal.”

However, there seems to be growing pains on both sides. One part of being a father Junior said he wasn’t ready for is watching the child’s learning curve. Seeing how his daughter learns and discovers something previously thought to be mundane for the very first time fascinates the father maybe as much as the child.

“She’s starting to figure things out, and it’s a lot of fun watching that happen,” the retired NASCAR driver told Patrick. “I had no clue all this was part of it. Nothing anybody can say can prepare you for what you’re going to experience, and every day with her is incredible.”

“She’ll do the silliest, simplest normal thing that you would never think is a big deal, and you’ve seen it a million times from other babies that your friends have or your sister or brother might have,” Junior continued. “When you see it from your own baby, you flip out thinking, ‘Man, this is awesome that she learned this or figured this out.’”

Welcome to Parenting 101, Junior. Enjoy it, because in no small measure, this sense of wonder on both sides will never cease.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.