In an era of racing shows attracting new fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s "Lost Speedways" is a series for longtime NASCAR followers.
Earnhardt Jr. and the Dirty Mo Media crew released their second season of the docuseries Thursday on Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service competing with the likes of Netflix and Disney+.
Within the motorsports show genre, however, "Lost Speedways" isn't a competitor to the 2021 Netflix NASCAR sitcom "The Crew" nor the popular dramatic docuseries "Formula 1: Drive to Survive," which has found favor with an audience not rooted in the racing world. Instead, "Lost Speedways" offers an alternative outlet for NASCAR's history buffs who appreciate the ghost tales and nostalgia surrounding racetracks long forgotten.
The show is anchored by Earnhardt Jr. and Matthew Dillner, who return as complementary hosts for a second season. Their banter and giddy excitement over speedway detritus is actually part of the appeal.
"Dudeee," Dillner says standing atop a dilapidated flagstand at Texas World Speedway in Episode 5.
"This is spectacular," Earnhardt Jr. responds.
They snap a photo.
You'll watch the NASCAR Hall of Famer rummage through broken asphalt, exclaiming, "Check out this Firestone slick!" and wonder how you got so excited about an old tire. Then, Earnhardt Jr. will scale an attic-like storage space balanced on a rusty steel drum, the music suspenseful and camera positioned below. What's up there?
"A.J. Foyt!" he jokes.
The show hinges on Earnhardt Jr.'s accessible, personable celebrity. There is, after all, a reason he was voted NASCAR's most popular driver 15 times and has created a small media empire with Dirty Mo co-founder and "Dale Jr. Download" podcast co-host Mike Davis.
Earnhardt Jr. has remained a face for NASCAR as a race-day analyst for NBC since his exit from the driver's seat full-time in 2018. He's also the co-owner of Xfinity Series team JR Motorsports along with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller. "Lost Speedways" is his latest venture, with Season 2 allowing fans even more access into his world and putting his passion for racing — the stories, history and memories — on full display.
"We went with something safe I think in Season 1," Earnhardt Jr. said. "And this is a little more like, 'Hey, now we got our feet wet, a little more confidence, a little more risks.' "
While the show's first season similarly includes Earnhardt family history, beginning with the opening visit to Charlotte's Metrolina Speedway, the latest eight-episode batch features a full-circle moment for Earnhardt Jr. when he visits Myrtle Beach Speedway, a half-mile track in South Carolina that closed last year.
Other episodes rely on narratives from drivers who formerly raced at the tracks including Johnny Rutherford at Texas World Speedway and Bobby Allison at Columbia Speedway, as well as David Starr (Texas), Lynn Geisler (Pennsboro Speedway) and Eddie Bierscherwale (San Antonio Speedway). But the perspective from Earnhardt Jr. in the Myrtle Beach episode and his raw emotion at seeing the dissolution of the track that helped spark his racing career elevates the show beyond infectious excitement over debris.
"Last year we had a really common thread that was a similar sort of vibe and temperature," he said. "This one we went a little more up and down, and highs and lows, and sad and happy, different types of track and different types of drama and stories."
Daytona Beach and Road Course in Florida, Arundel Speedway in Maine and Cleveland County Fairgrounds in North Carolina are among the other featured racetracks, and Earnhardt Jr. said the crew finished the season with a list of about 80 additional tracks he feels confident could make the show. The creation of the series is partially selfish, Earnhardt Jr. said. It lets him live out his previously closeted hobby for exploring some of the hundreds of speedways he's mapped out over the years. There is also not an entirely practical takeaway for viewers.
He weighed in on discussions surrounding NASCAR's potential return to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and North Wilkesboro, but figures that hardly any of the tracks featured in his show stand a chance at making a return. Instead, Earnhardt Jr. said his aim is to take viewers along on his journey of "exploring and digging around and uncover(ing) some things about these places that you didn't know."
Sometimes he even learned too much.
"There was a moment we were in Cleveland County where we're like, this might piss off some people," he said. "I don't know if I want to piss off people."
Controversy has never been Earnhardt Jr.'s style. Instead, he is his typical self in the series — an ambassador for the sport in excavating rain boots — hoping that others find the same joy in unpacking racing's roots. While NASCAR fans can revel in the old imagery and races recounted, the variety of tracks explored and stories told means that even the most avid followers will likely learn something new.
"I don't know all the history," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But I think we can't really appreciate the current product and what NASCAR is today without really doing our homework and understanding where it all came from."