Monday, May 26, 2008

Dispelling some Earnhardt Myths

It seems as time goes by, more and more myths are circulated about Dale Earnhardt Jr., as a man, and as a driver. Some of them are down right funny, and some are just created out of jealousy. Let's examine a few.

Myth Number One: Dale Jr. whines and cries when things don't go his way.

This has been a popular myth, on both the message boards and on the comments section after posted blogs or articles about Dale Jr. I find it hilarious at best that people can say this about Dale Earnhardt Jr. I have been following Dale Jr. his entire Nascar career, and never once have I heard him whine or cry about anything. Dale Jr. has rarely publicly disputed a call that Nascar made, nor has he disparaged another driver publicly. For his relatively young age, Dale Jr. is garnering a reputation as a gentleman, both in the garage and with the press. His recent incident at Richmond with Kyle Busch more than proves my point. Dale gets in an accident that takes him out of the race. I saw Kyle Busch wrecking Dale Jr., maybe not on purpose, but because of Kyle's blatant disregard of where other drivers are on the track. You may see it differently, but Dale Jr. was very restrained in his comments after the race. Dale Jr. was obviously frustrated, but he did not disparage Kyle Busch or his actions on the track. Kyle, however, basically criticized Dale Jr. for being the driver that can't be raced with, because he gets mad, or his fans get mad. Message to Kyle: You can race Dale Jr. or anyone else on the track. My question to you, is why do you get mad when people race YOU hard? Maybe drivers that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Myth Number Two: Dale Earnhardt Jr. actively seeks out publicity and photo ops.

This one is really easy to dispel, because anyone who has ever watched Dale Jr. for more than 30 seconds on camera will realize he does not have an extroverted personality at all. Dale Jr. is basically a very shy person, and I have a good reason for realizing this, because I am and always have been much the same way. My job makes it impossible to be a total introvert, so I have learned to smile and slap backs with relative strangers in order to be accepted and be thought of as a 'regular guy'. The truth is, I keep to myself most of the time, and don't really enjoy being in a crowd of people. Dale Jr. strikes me much the same way, relying on a very close group of friends and family for companionship. Dale Jr. has stated that it takes a long time for him to really trust someone, and he needs to be around that person for at least a couple of years before he really trusts them. I can identify with that. Dale Jr. is on TV so much because of sponsor demands, and if it weren't for sponsors, we would probably see Dale Jr. publicly very rarely. Dale Jr. is the most popular driver in Nascar, and his popularity leads to a ton of appearances and commercial shoots. If you've ever read Dale Jr.'s book, you will realize that he doesn't not particularly enjoy the publicity, but he learned early on that a race car driver has to do those things in order to succeed. His dad taught him that it's important to show up for appearances when scheduled, and to wear his sponsor's hat or tee shirt. Dale Jr.'s public persona is a result of what he is, a race car driver.

Myth Number Three: Dale Jr. is overrated, and he's not as good as everyone thinks.

I especially like this myth, because this is where we get into the pure jealousy aspects of why some fans hate Dale Jr. so much. Although it is certainly possible that had Dale Jr. not had his father and both grandfathers involved in racing, and might have chosen a different career path, Dale Jr. is who he is, and he can't help who his father was. Dale Jr. wanted to be a race car driver since he was a child, and that is not uncommon for children of racing dads. Just look at Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Chrissy Wallace, Sterling Marlin and others. Many of today's Nascar field is made up of drivers who are sons of drivers, whether they made it to the big time or not.

Dale Jr.'s credentials as a driver simply speak for themselves. Of his 17 Cup wins, 15 came after his famous father was killed at Daytona in 2001. Much of that time, he was not driving with the best equipment in the field either. Many drivers with many more years in the sport would love to have Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s record. Dale Jr. won the Winston in his rookie year, and has a Daytona 500 win to his credit. All that's lacking is a championship, and in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports, he is well on his way to contending for that championship. Overrated? Look at your own driver before you try to hang that label on Dale Jr. Dale Jr. is a winner, and he's got more talent than a lot of drivers out there.

Myth Number 4: Dale Jr. is spreading himself too thin with all his different business interests.

This one has been brought up a lot over the last few years. Jr.'s interests are wide and varied. He has appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. He did a video with hip hop artist Jayzee. He has his own satellite radio show. He is the owner of JR Motorsports, and even has a video production team following him around a lot, part of his own crew, who's work has been and will be shown on ESPN. Dale Jr. has a popular new night club in Charlotte, Whiskey River. How can one young man have his hands in so many places at one time?

The answer is simple. Jr. hires people he trusts to work out the details, and he gets out of the way. Take the bar, for example. Dale Jr. hired a professional staff to manage the enterprise, and mostly his involvement is to come in and hang out with a few friends from time to time. Sure, Dale Jr. controls the purse strings, but that won't take up much of his time. His radio show takes the time it takes to actually do the show, and he lets other people worry about the details as to how and when the show is broadcast. Sister Kelley runs the day to day operations at JRM, and who could be better qualified to do that than another of Dale's kids? When Dale Jr. straps himself into the race car on the weekends, he's just like any other driver. All he's concerned with is getting the most out of that car that he can. He's not worried about whether or not there is enough vodka at Whiskey River. He isn't worried who his guest on his radio show will be next week. He's not worried about JRM, because Kelley has it covered. Dale Earnhardt Jr. exhibits all the qualities of a successful business man. He hires good people into positions of authority, and gets out of their way so they can do their jobs. Oh, if all bosses could be like that!

I wonder who he learned that trait from?

By the way, the ESPN shows and the DVD's he's made? Dale Jr. sums it up quite well. It's for his fans. Just giving a little back to the fans who have supported him all these years.

Myth Number 5: Dale Earnhardt Jr. only wins on restrictor plate tracks.

This one is idiotic by anyone's standards. All you you need to look at are the statistics. Though seven of Dale Jr.'s wins were at Talladega (5) and Daytona (2), 10 have come plain old circle Cup tracks. Dale Jr. has won at Texas, Richmond, Dover, Phoenix, Atlanta, Bristol, and Chicago. He won at Richmond 3 times, and Phoenix twice. That's a guy that can only run RP tracks, huh?

A lot of fans conveniently forget that Dale Jr. is a two time Busch series champion as well, winning a total of 22 races so far. Dale Jr. has won at places like South Boston, Indy Raceway Park, and even Watkins Glen. Get over it folks, the dude knows how to wheel a race car.

Myth Number 6: The Earnhardt Nation can find no wrong with Dale Jr.

Dispelling this myth is possibly more subjective, but it's complete bunk. I consider myself a member of the Earnhardt Nation, and from comments I've received on this very forum, and from what I've read on the Pit Board and other sources, some of us are the harshest critics of all. First we discussed and some of us criticized his move from DEI to Hendrick. We really had a wild time discussing that one. We questioned his thinking in bringing Tony Eury Jr. with him to be his crew chief at Hendrick. We wondered what kind of a mess he might be getting into with sworn enemies Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as teammates. (Turns out they are good teammates, so far!) We questioned why, why, oh why would he ever leave the company that his dad founded? (I've answered that question in other blogs here.)

Do we trust Jr.'s judgment on things? Of course we do, most of the time. If you want to see the Jr. nation at work, just read the link above, and you will generally find someone with differing opinions on just about any subject. Do we love Dale Earnhardt Jr.? You bet. There's a lot to like, and a lot to admire about what many consider to be the most down to earth driver in Nascar.

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