A Conversation with Dale Jr.
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 24, 2013 | 7:04 P.M. EST
Dale Earnhart Jr. is a fan of the 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass because of its ties to an era of NASCAR he enjoys the most. (Photo: Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE - Honest, funny and sentimental, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a fan favorite because of how much he reveals about himself.
Earnhardt’s openness seems to be greater than many athletes'. When a female fan asked for a hug Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt gave her one. When asked about his season, Earnhardt’s answer was not colored in false platitudes.
Earnhardt shared more Tuesday. He spoke about his attitude last weekend at New Hampshire, moved on to pets and then how he averted a fight one night at his go-kart track after things got out of hand.
Here’s some of what he said in separate sessions with media and fans:
Q: How do you view your season?
Earnhardt: "(Some) say they think we’ve been consistent. I don’t feel that we have. We started off great, started off strong. We had an advantage on everybody through hard work in the off-season, and had a better understanding of the new car.
"We rattled off a lot of great finishes and had the points lead, had good speed, better speed than we had in 2012, but we’ve had issues. It’s either been me making mistakes, some calls (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) made that didn’t go our way, getting caught on pit road under cautions, engine failures and stuff like that that's really taken a good racecar out of the race. Happy with the speed, happy that the car has been quick. We’ve been progressing each year, which is good to see."
Q: How do you maintain the composure during this progression and not having the results you want?
Earnhardt: "We tried really hard this past weekend to win that race. I don’t know if it was evident to most. We raced aggressively. I think we’re going to have to run like that every week. The car was really, really good. That was the best car I’ve had in practice all year. That’s what we need.
"We’re trying really, really hard. I know everybody knows we’re trying. The Chase isn’t over with. The championship isn’t over with but man, if we can win a race or two before the end of the season that would kind of vindicate ourselves and give us a lot of momentum going into next year. We’re due for a win. We're a good enough team that we should have won a race or two this year."
Q: What about Friday at New Hampshire? You weren’t really happy talking to the media after qualifying?
Earnhardt: "I was really mad about the lap, mad with myself after I walked away ... for getting that emotional about it, not having a better attitude. I look around at other guys that don’t qualify well, I know they may feel the same way I feel, but they don’t show it. I was a little disappointed in myself for being that way. I’m usually not that way. I used to be like that when I was younger and used to show you guys (the press) that kind of attitude all the time."
Q: Have you talked to Martin Truex Jr., and how is he doing with all that has happened the last couple of weeks?
Earnhardt: "I haven’t had a chance to talk to Truex, but I’ve kept an eye on him and seeing his body language, he seems to be handling it pretty well, as well as you can. None of us really know what opportunities are being presented to him. I certainly think he’s one of the best drivers in the sport. I think he’s yet to really showcase how good he can be in the car. It’s difficult to watch him go through this because you know he had nothing to do with any of that stuff that was going on at Richmond."
Q: How is Clint Bowyer handling all of this?
Earnhardt: "Clint is fine. I’ve talked to Clint a lot. We run into each other quite often at driver intros. It’s almost been as hard to watch Clint go through this as its been to watch Truex go through it because Clint is a good guy and, obviously, was just following orders. He did some things that were out of character and regrettable, and he feels terrible to have any involvement in it. I know that for a fact."
Q: Do you do doughnuts in your street car? (Asked by a young boy)
Earnhardt: "I’ve done some doughnuts in my street cars from time to time. It’s usually to show off for a girl. They make you do some crazy things. You’ll find out."
Q: Do you take any of your pets to the racetrack?
Earnhardt: "I used to have this cat named Buddy. He lived on the bus. I got him in New Hampshire. After the race was over with, he stayed on the bus and my bus driver would drive him to the next racetrack. The only time he was off the bus was when the season was over.
"I’ve been dating Amy (Reimann) for several years now and she’s got a Pomeranian. I don’t claim it. He’s pretty cool, but I don’t admit it. He goes every week because he’s so small, he’s easy to carry around. Killer, my boxer, goes every once in a while if the grass is close to the bus. But if it’s a lot of concrete, I usually don’t take him because you have to walk all the way across the track to get him to use the bathroom."
Q: Of all the cars you've raced, which one means the most to you sentimentally?
Earnhardt: "I’ve got a Corvette that is sort of a mock-up of the car that me and my Dad ran in the Daytona 24-hour race in 2001. The wing on the car is actually off one of the Corvettes from Le Mans that season. I'll never sell that car. I’ve got a '65 Impala that has been in my family for a long time. It’s the kind of car that got loaned to everybody at some point in time. I’ll keep that car forever.
"I just bought a '77 Oldsmobile Cutlass. I put it on my website so you could see that it’s a lot cooler than it sounds. I've got a '76 Laguna and a '77 Oldsmobile. Those were the models that raced in NASCAR in the Cup Series around that time. We’ll take them and we’ll put these tires on them to make them look like Cup cars. I sent them over to Ray Evernham’s shop, his guys put spoilers on the back and we put grille screen on the bumper. They look like Cup cars when you’re done with them and you drive them down the street. I just like old '70s NASCAR. That’s my era. I wish I could have driven in (that era).
"(Dale Earnhardt Sr.) ran an Oldsmobile in the Daytona 500. That was the car you had to have at Daytona if you wanted to be fast in '78, '79 and '80. If you didn’t have an Oldsmobile, you weren’t going to run well. My dad’s team would bring an Oldsmobile Cutlass to Daytona and then drive a Chevy the rest of the season. And at Talladega, they’d get the Oldsmobile back out. That was a really cool racecar."
Q: How did you become a South Carolina Gamecocks fan? (Asked by a Clemson fan)
Earnhardt: "I wasn’t always a South Carolina fan. Back when my dad passed away, I was trying to think of this cool idea to boost the spirits of all the employees at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Dad wasn’t there, the company was standing there wondering what to do. The whole company ... had no direction.
"I thought I would call Lou Holtz and see if he would come talk to us, sort of get everybody fired up and give us all direction so we could go into Daytona and work hard. He was the coach of South Carolina at the time. He came out, talked to us and blew everybody away. Got us all started on the right foot and we went on about our way.
"I started watching Lou and started pulling for the Gamecocks that way. At the same time, I was getting these footballs in the mail from Steve Spurrier. They were autographed. I got like two or three in the mail from him. I had never formally requested them. Maybe this guy is a fan of mine. I thought that was pretty cool. Then all of a sudden, he goes to coach the Redsksins - that didn’t work out so well - I’m a huge Redskins fan. He ended up going to the Gamecocks and coaching as well. That’s cool. They’ve had an up-and-down season already. I like the (North) Carolina Tar Heels, but their football team is kind of hard to pull for. They’re as hard to pull for like the Redskins, sometimes."
Q: You have a go-kart track at your house. Have you ever defeated a woman on that track?
Earnhardt: "I think we’ve always had Powder Puff races where all the women race by themselves, which is a really funny story. I’m sure my sister has jumped on one and ran a few races with us from time to time. We use it about once a year. I invite all the employees from JR Motorsports and all the employees from the (Hendrick race shop he shares with Jimmie Johnson’s team). We just have races all night. We have a lot of fun. We start at 8 o’clock at night and we won’t end until 2 in the morning. It’s so much fun.
"One of the first times we did that was when I first started driving for Rick (Hendrick). All the women had a race. Kelley (Earnhardt-Miller) and the wife of one of the guys in management had a disagreement on the last lap and my sister is pretty fiery, plus she had raced in her past. She kind of thought she had a leg up on the competition out there, but this girl didn’t like what Kelley did to her in the last corner. I guess Kelley shoved her out of the way to get by her.
"They threw the checkered flag and they went down into the last corner slowing down, the race was over, and that lady dumped Kelley and flipped her over. We’ve raced these karts hundreds of time and never flipped one. I looked over and that’s the bottom of the kart. What is one doing upside down? I had never even seen the bottom of one of those before. I’m like, 'How the heck did that happen?' because they’re super-heavy and they’re really safe. They’ve got rails all the way around them, just like you would see at an indoor kart facility. I was really surprised.
"I didn’t know who it was. I thought for sure it was maybe one of the girls that didn’t have a whole lot of experience or something and got herself in trouble. And Kelley crawled out from under it. She was high-tailing it across the racetrack to get to this lady. They were going to have a knock-down, drag-out.
"I wasn’t racing. I hadn’t raced at all that night. It’s more fun for me to choreograph the whole thing, tell everybody what to do, get everybody in the karts and send them out to have fun. Finally, I had to stand up and say, 'All right, let’s run the next one,' and throw on a helmet and jump on to a kart to get everybody’s mind back on what we were trying to do; and stop the argument and the fight that was getting ready to happen. We haven’t had a Powder Puff race since."