Topping The DEI Charts
November 26, 2000 | 11:00 A.M. EST
Earnhardt currently presides over the race teams of Steve Park, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a new program for veteran driver Michael Waltrip.
So when asked about his teams, which does “The Intimidator” praise first? Who does he consider to be his top driver?
It could be Park, after all, he was the first full-time driver for DEI. Then again, Dale Jr. is his son, he’s gotta be No. 1 in Big E’s eyes at all times, right? But what if Waltrip breaks out of his losing streak in 2001, does he get bumped up the pecking order?
Earnhardt, of course, says he tries to show no favoritism to any of his teams.
“There’s no seniority,” Earnhardt says. “Everybody here at DEI races to win. I've got three different sponsors and three different teams here, so I've got to give everybody the same opportunities. We give the same engines, same cars, and same opportunities to each driver.
“To see them win races is great. The No. 3 team is the important team to me when it comes to start the whole program and to start the year. What we've done this year at DEI is going to be good going into next year. I had a good time this year. It was a lot of fun to get to race against my son.”
Even though Dale Jr. shares the same bloodline as his dad, the young Earnhardt says he really doesn’t expect to be shown any favoritism.
"It depends on what's going on that day,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “He's definitely not going to show any favoritism to anybody. It doesn't really matter. When Park wins a race, Dad is real happy about it and that's what he's going to talk about. When I win, he's very happy about it and that's what he's going to talk about.
“If Park’s not running in the Top 5 four or five weeks in a row, then he’s not going to get lunch or dinner at the house, you know what I’m saying.”
Park says he can’t help but feel that he’s just a small part of the puzzle at DEI.
“I’ve never really thought about any of us being the number one driver,” Park says. “I carry the No. 1 on the side of my car, but that’s just a coincidence. I probably should be worried about it, but I don’t walk around the shop thinking I’m the number two driver because of Dale Earnhardt Jr. And I also don’t walk around thinking I’m the number one driver because I was the first one here. We all look at each other as equals. Our job at Dale Earnhardt Inc. is to win races and run as best as we can.
“I don’t think Dale Jr., or myself, or Dale Earnhardt, and now Michael Waltrip, worry about being the number one or two driver. We’re just drivers at Dale Earnhardt Inc., and it’s each team’s job to do the best we can.
“It’s a great question whether I’m the number one guy or not, but I just don’t worry about that. And I’m sure Dale Jr. feels the same way… even though it’s his dad.”
“I want to make Dad happy,” Earnhardt Jr. says. “He’s my car owner and father at the same time, so for him to be able to enjoy doing this is the level we have to maintain. We’d love to be a top-10 team next year, running up there every week. But we’re going to work hard in the winter to get there and improve our program and personnel.”
While Earnhardt Sr. saw his run at a record-breaking eighth Winston Cup title come up short to Bobby Labonte, his DEI operation was coming to form. Dale Jr., in his rookie season, won early at Texas and Richmond, and also The Winston all-star race in May at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Park would also pick up the first win of his three-year Winston Cup career at Watkins Glen.
"All our race teams at DEI have done well,” Earnhardt says. “Park has done a great job this year. Dale Jr. came out of the box pretty hot and excited and competitive and put some pressure on the 1 car. The 1 car had a tough first part of the year, but as they went along they got better and they turned their season around very nicely. They won a race, ran competitively and sat on the pole, things like that. I'm proud of my race teams.
“And I'm proud of what Ron Hornaday did for us in the Truck Series and winning races this year with the Busch car. I'm excited to see him move on to Winston Cup with A.J. Foyt.
“I’m excited about my son Dale Jr. and Steve Park in the Winston Cup division and (son) Kerry (Earnhardt) in the ARCA division. It's been a good year for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Dale Earnhardt himself. To be a competitive driver and win races in Winston Cup, and look around at your team and everybody in the team has won races, that's quite an accomplishment.”
Earnhardt Jr. says while the year could have been a tad better for his No. 8 Bud team, the performance of DEI as a whole was pretty impressive in 2000.
“We had a lot of good times at the beginning of the year. Things went downhill at the midpoint of the season, though,” Earnhardt Jr. explains. “We're still optimistic about the future. Everybody on the team seems to be positive and that's important. Park's team has definitely turned it around since their win at Watkins Glen. Hopefully with Michael coming aboard, and with the experience he's got, he can get up there and run with them pretty quickly. What we see as a legitimate goal is having all three teams in the Top 15 in points next year.”
As Park points out, there are a lot worse problems for his team owner to have than worrying about who he shows the most favoritism towards.
“Being a car owner, it’s all about chemistry and keeping all the teams happy,” Park says. “Dale might have his own personnel feelings about who is number one or two, but I’ve gotten to know Dale pretty well through the past few years, and I can say his number one driver can change from week to week. Whoever is running the best is his number one driver.
“Dale has a win-win situation because he’s got two race teams that have run well in Winston Cup, and now he’s about to add a third with Michael Waltrip. So he has high expectations, and he’s going to make damn sure that those teams run well.”
After bouncing around from ride to ride through the past few years, Earnhardt will most definitely give Waltrip a solid operation, one that could finally produce a Winston Cup win. It’s something that has eluded Waltrip through more than 450 Cup starts.
“I hope next year is the year Michael Waltrip turns it around and wins a race,” Earnhardt says. “He’ll be in our car when he does it. We're definitely going to give him the resources it takes. That's very important. You've got to have the right pieces and right opportunity to win today. I don't care who you are. Mike is a competitive racer, and with the right parts and pieces, he’ll be up front.”
And if Park’s words are gospel, the week Waltrip does run up front, he’ll become DEI’s number one driver… for a week, anyway.