FORT WORTH -- As the campgrounds at Texas Motor Speedway start to fill up, the mood is bittersweet for people like Lisa Durst.
"It's the last one in Texas. It's crazy," she said.
The "last one" she's referring to is the final Texas race for NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The driver, who goes by the number 88 and the nickname "Jr." announced he was retiring after being a beloved fixture on the NASCAR scene for decades.
He'll race Sunday at TMS, which will be his last Texas turn. It's leaving lots of NASCAR fans heartbroken, including Durst, who says she needs "Dr. Phil's help, that's how big of a Jr. fan I am."
"We're going to miss him. We're going to miss him a lot," Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said.
Gossage says he's known Jr. since he was a little boy.
"Just a little tow-headed, blond-headed kid," he described.
His father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was a close friend. Jr. had his first NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Cup Series wins at TMS, Gossage said.
"This is a place that’s gonna be forever linked to Dale Jr., and the Jr. nation knows that," Gossage said.
You'll see signs of Dale Jr.’s impact all over TMS this weekend, from banners to the larger-than-life "88" emblazoned in lights on the back of Big Hoss (the massive television at the track), to the pretzels served in the shape of Dale's number.
"If you can freeze those, you can save it. That'd be awesome. I need a pretzel," Durst laughed.
The "88" pretzel would be the one thing Durst doesn't have yet in her Dale Jr. collection, which includes a Dale Jr. Barbie and a Dale Jr. life size cut-out.
She expects to be emotional this Sunday, as Dale Jr.'s NASCAR departure leaves a Texas-sized hole in her heart.
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