By Bobby Markos -
Working behind the scenes at the Dale Jr. Download has afforded me a unique view into what I believe is one of the best podcasts being produced today. After 408 episodes, Dale Jr. and Mike Davis have honed in their ability to create an atmosphere that makes even the toughest guests feel at ease. The result is intimate looks into the lives of larger-than-life figures, some of the most interesting humans in the world. Hearing these conversations unfold can be breathtaking, and there are several moments that make you stop dead in your tracks and just listen with undivided attention.
The 2022 season of the Download was truly one for the books. Beginning last February, we were able to touch on the dawn of stock car racing, winning the Indianapolis 500, career-ending crashes, the NFL combine, drug smuggling, convictions and suspensions, technical “innovation,” Friday night fights, UFOs and everything in between. While it would be impossible for anyone to make a definitive list of what the “best” moments of the year were, here are 10 memorable pieces of conversation that stuck out to me:
Having Freddy Query on the Download this season was a highlight in itself because it gave a spotlight to an unsung legend of short track racing. For several years, Freddy was a dominant force in the Carolina late model scene at tracks like Metrolina and Concord and was a mentor and hero to several generations of upcoming racers, which included Dale Jr. A highlight from the interview was when Freddy gave Download listeners a unique perspective into the childhood of Dale Earnhardt Sr., who lived in the adjacent neighborhood.
If you missed the Randy Lanier episode of the Download or aren’t familiar with his story, stop reading this now and give it a listen (link). His trajectory from being a sports car hobbyist to becoming an IMSA Champion and one of the United States’ biggest smugglers of marijuana is one of the most interesting racing-related tales in history. While the entire interview is breathtaking, this moment regarding his time spent on the run leading up to a high-speed chase and arrest in Antigua had me hook, line and sinker.
One of the most memorable episodes of the season was with legendary dirt late model racer Scott Bloomquist. By now, you’ve probably seen his wild take on alien life (link), but one of the truly remarkable moments of the episode was when Scott let his guard down and talked openly about the low moments of his life during the 1990s.
The entire Erik Jones episode was one of my favorites of the season. Erik was very well spoken and thoughtful in his answers, and I thought he and Dale had great rapport during the conversation. The highlight of the interview was when Dale asked Erik about his father passing away in 2016. I thought that Dale handled the topic very delicately due to his own experience with losing his parents, and the conversation was intimate and genuine.
Having grown up purely a NASCAR fan with no involvement with the Cup garage past what I saw on television, it is mind-blowing to hear the stories of “what might have been” due to dealings behind the scenes. This moment sticks out in particular, because Greg Biffle competing in the No. 16 Roush entry was something you could set your watch to. Greg spoke very candidly about his time with the organization and the offers from other teams he was considering.
Any time that Dale sits down with a family member or close family friend on the Download, new details of Earnhardt family folklore usually emerge. He and Kelley’s conversation with their Aunt Cathy this season was one for the books in this regard, as it provided a lot of backstory on their grandparents Ralph and Martha, as well as details on their father, aunts and uncles. This segment features the story of Ralph’s untimely passing in 1973 and the effect it had on the family.
While Denny Hamlin’s on-track encounters were a frequent topic of discussion during Dirty Air this season, this specific moment where Dale reads out the radio responses and Mike’s reactions had me crying with laughter.
The Ned Yost episode this season ended up being an unexpected gem. While Ned is a fascinating character with an incredible career as a MLB coach and team manager, the details of his close friendship with Dale Sr. provided listeners with a never before heard perspective of the Intimidator. This moment in particular discussing Ned’s time as a “rehydration engineer” on Dale’s 1994 Championship Cup team gives a unique look into one of the most iconic teams in NASCAR history.
If you’re a NASCAR fan, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Jeremy Mayfield and his controversial suspension from the Cup series in 2009. But the legend of the events that followed have become fodder for racing folklore. In one of the most anticipated interviews in Download history, Jeremy sat down in the Bojangles Studio and filled Dale and Mike in on the details of the huge law enforcement raid that took place at his property in 2011.
Dale and Mike are naturally hilarious, especially in conversation with each other. As a result, Dirty Air has become a world of its own. It is often unpredictable and almost always generates sound bites. This may go down as one of the most iconic moments in Download history, largely thanks to the t-shirt (link) it yielded. But don’t let the hilarity distract you, this was one of Dale and Mike’s best debates of the season.
And there we have it, 10 great moments from an incredible season of the Dale Jr. Download. If you missed out on last year's episodes, I highly recommend you start with these, but keep in mind this is just skimming the surface of a well of brilliant content.