Ia Hidden Star:/I Jade Gurss

I hop through the right-side window of the Budweiser Chevrolet race car. This car has been prepared by the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Today, the driver is no mere Petty school instructor, but one of the finest drivers in the world. Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets an ornery grin on his face as he hits the ignition switch...
  • Jade Gurss (Excerpt from Driver #8 by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with Jade Gurss - Warner Books Inc. 2002)

    Jade Gurss, owner of the sports publicity firm fingerprint, inc., has been "riding along" with Dale Earnhardt Jr., enjoying a vicarious thrill since 1999.

    A few laps in the passenger seat of Junior's Chevy at Lowe's Motor Speedway gave him the buzz of excitement - flavored with a dash of terror - that usually is reserved for drivers. That moment when he felt he was about to be launched up the side of a three-story building told him more about the sport - and the man he was promoting - than he had learned during three years as a publicist for the No. 8 car.

    Gurss was handpicked by former coworker Tim Schuler and the Anheuser-Busch Co. to handle all media surrounding the team that was famous before it ever hit the track. He started when Junior was running a partial Winston Cup season in 1999, and quickly helped craft the image of what was destined to be one of the most powerful combinations racing had ever known - an Earnhardt and Budweiser.

    Gurss said everyone wanted to do something outstanding to commemorate Junior's first full season. The result was “Driver #8,” a diary that stretches from Earnhardt's celebrated initiation at the 2000 Daytona 500 to the traumatic finish of the 2001 race and beyond.

    Suddenly the tables were turned, as Gurss steered Junior through the process of putting his life on paper.

    “He was very receptive to it,” Gurss said. “We had to overcome some hesitation from the family and DEI because of bad experiences in the past, but everyone knew there would only be one first Daytona 500, one first win and one first rookie season. We wanted something that would chronicle that year - something with longevity.”

    Although one is a NASCAR touchstone, and the other is more of a "hidden star," Junior and Gurss found they have more in common than their love of racing and Budweiser. Music is a big part of their limited downtime. In fact, Gurss remembered during the interview for RacingOne that he was past due on a promise to tune Junior's drums. Gurss said he had "the cliché experience," playing with a college band and touring a modest circuit in a vehicle that passed for a van.

    A native of Topeka, Kan., he first enrolled at the University of Kansas, then attended a technical school in Ohio to study audio engineering. At that time, he had dreams of promoting a different type of celebrity, but he said his delusions of being a record producer were not meant to be.

    Eventually, Gurss found the path of a purebred communications professional and earned a degree in broadcasting from Washburn University. He had the talent, but it was his lifelong infatuation with racing that made it shine.

    Many drivers got their start in elementary school, but Gurss probably stands alone as a kid who got a taste of motorsports journalism. His aunt worked for Speedsport News during her college years, and Gurss tagged along to races at the Topeka Fairgrounds.

    "As a little guy, I helped her write her column,” Gurss said. “That usually meant sticking the paper in the envelope and putting it in the mailbox after the race, but I helped.”

    Gurss's aunt and the rest of his family were pleased when a track was built in Kansas City, Kan., recently because his travel schedule rarely affords him opportunities to visit. He attends nearly all of the races and goes with Junior to sponsor appearances.

    Gurss used to handle nearly all of the scheduling, but Earnhardt's sister has taken over most of those responsibilities. The driver himself has also taken a more active interest as sponsors, fans and media tear into his free time, but Gurss is as industrious as ever. When he is not writing or dealing with the media, he is timing laps or videotaping pit stops.

    "Anytime the red No. 8 is on the track, I'm on site doing something,” he said. “The better the team does, the easier my job is.”

    Gurss said his role as a publicist made writing the book almost like "cheating." His access to Junior and their developing friendship got him in sync with Earnhardt's speech patterns and his take on life. Although “Driver #8” is Dale Jr.'s story (written in first person), Gurss devoted hours of interviewing, writing and organizing to the project that - like everything else - came to a halt when Junior's father, the inimitable Dale Earnhardt, was killed during the 2001 Daytona 500.

    Junior's dominant return to Daytona in July of 2001 gives the book a happy ending – one that readers hope is only the beginning for Gurss and his co-writer and one time co-pilot for the "launch" at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

    As of March 5, 2002, they had reached the fifth spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, but both are aiming for the No. 1 position in the Winston Cup point rankings.

    As Gurss said to Junior in the opening of the book, “Dude, the future is limitless.”
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