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WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes Reminisces About His Dad's Love of NASCAR Icon

The Intimidator was much-watch TV in the Rhodes household for a reason.   

By Andrew Woodin
Split of Cody Rhodes and Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Even prior to his tragic death after a crash in 2001 during the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was universally beloved by NASCAR fans while also being feared by his competitors. Backed up by his sensational talent behind the wheel that powered him to be a seven-time champion in NASCAR’s top flight, after his death, that dichotomy helped transform the icon’s legacy into one that would touch the lives of not just those involved in stock car racing, but also people outside of the sport.

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The fiery wheelman known as The Intimidator — thanks to his fearless, competitive drive and commitment to the league — transcended from a living legend into an immortalized hero of near mythical proportions. Like others who have been drawn to the ballad of The Man in Black, appreciating both his accomplishments and who he was as a person, WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes recently discussed his family's love for the stock car racing titan with a NASCAR Hall of Famer who knows a thing or two about Earnhardt Sr. — his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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“I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but my dad was a monster fan, monster fan, and your dad was his absolute favorite,” revealed Rhodes on the Dale Jr. Download podcast of his own father, the late WWE legend Dusty Rhodes“My sister was so excited I was coming on this ... because my dad sat there, he watched every race, and he had very specific tastes. He was a showman, so he loved your dad, he loved there was a presence, there was almost a gimmick here, and then the gimmick’s backed up by, ‘Oh, he’s that good? Oh, my gosh!’”

Cody Rhodes poses on the red carpet for the premiere of "American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes"

Rhodes, a Royal Ruble champion who’s fresh off his documentary American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes, available on Peacock, added that, while there were other great drivers during that period, none stacked up to Earnhardt Sr.

“And he had this odd, not dislike, but odd, not into Richard Petty,” said the 38-year-old from Marietta, Georgia. “Richard Petty, he’s the king, but when it got to Dale, it’s Dale, Dale, Dale. And then watching you, him and my mom, big, big, big time fans. ... And those races were long, so when you’re a kid ... he’s plugged into the couch, he loved it so much.”

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The Man in Black meant so much to Rhodes’ father Dusty that Rhodes still recalls how deeply his dad was wounded by Earnhardt Sr.’s sudden death.

“He had this one moment where at Daytona when your father passed,” continued Rhodes, “He was doing a show in Carrollton, Georgia, a small independent show for our company, and he was devastated. He didn’t know, ‘Do we say anything to the crowd?’... They’ve got roots in this, they’re loving this. I remember that drive home with him, just different times he watched and how excited he was ... it’s as real as it gets. He was a huge fan, and by far, your family was the favorite.”

Dale Earnhardt celebrates his 4th NASCAR Winston Cup Championship after the Atlanta Journal 500, NASCAR Winston Cup race in 1990

As a devout Earnhardt Sr. fan, Rhodes' father’s thoughts about Petty also applied to another NASCAR Cup champion — The Rainbow Warrior.

“He didn’t like Jeff Gordon,” Rhodes said with a grin. “He had specific tastes, and I remember one time ... he was trying to explain it to me, 'Richard Petty is a lot like George Strait. He’s great, we love George Strait. Dale is like Garth Brooks. It’s everything, the show, the grit.' That was his big comparison, to explain to me.”

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Rhodes and Junior have more in common than just following in their fathers’ footsteps and being masters of their crafts: both unequivocally loved and viewed the other’s father as their hero of that sport.

“Your dad was my favorite,” Junior revealed. “Magnum was kinda like his protégé, sidekick, and it was them two against the Four Horsemen.”  

Dusty Rhodes puts his arm in the air during a match

Rhodes revealed in his podcast conversation with Junior that he was driven to succeed because he wanted to protect his dad's reputation.

“I was a weird kid. ... I wanted to amateur wrestle, again, very protective of my dad," said Rhodes. “Those people who looked down on him, nothing’s more real than amateur wrestling ... and I wanted to be good at it because people looked at him like, ‘Maybe he’s not a real athlete.' ... They didn’t realize he was a very gifted athlete. ... But that was my driving force as a kid, and I wanted to be really good.”

“He went to everything. I tell everyone I had the perfect dad," Rhodes added. "He was perfect for me.”