Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A New Start for DEI?

If you've gotten this far in your daily Nascar reading, you no doubt have seen the news that Teresa Earnhardt is interested in selling, either in part or whole, the business begun by her and her husband back in the 1980's. From at least one account, she is willing to sell the entire company and walk away for somewhere in the neighborhood of $115 and $130 million. Teresa would continue to own the rights to Dale's name, and the "Intimidator" branded merchandise. Reportedly, DEI's Max Siegel, President for Global Operations is trying to put together a group of investors to buy Teresa out.

I think this might be a very good thing for DEI, and for Teresa. Given the right group of investors, and a return to the company's roots; racing, DEI could become a super team. Teresa is still looked upon with scorn by many in the Nascar community after he falling out with step-son and the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year. She has reportedly said that she just wants to get away from the racing part of the business, and out of the limelight forever. I can't say that I blame her.

The list of possible investors is infinite, but there are a few that might be interested. Dale Jr. might be one of them. Last year during negotiations with DEI, he asked for, but was denied controlling interest in the company that his father and step-mom built. Dale Jr. certainly still is interested in being a part of the company where he got his racing start. His father once said that he started DEI so that all of his children could find a place in racing, if they so wished. Today there are very few faces at DEI named Earnhardt, save Teresa and Kerry, and Jeffrey, who drives with DEI backing in one of Nascar's development series. Kerry did drive a Nationwide car in the Nationwide race last week at Daytona, and ran a good race. Kerry has said that he would like to go back to racing full time, and I hope he can. I hope he can do it for the company that bears his father's name.

My friends, the speculation is flying wild today, as it should be. Speculation is a lot of fun, and they don't call it Silly Season in Nascar for nothing. I want to caution you, dear reader, not to believe everything you read, whether it's here or anywhere else. I don't trust "insiders" any more than I trust the man in the moon when it comes to "done deals." Don't raise your expectations too high until you see the official announcement.

Though the ailing Tony Stewart is supposedly going to buy out or at least into Haas Racing, and take Ryan Newman with him, I'm waiting for an official announcement before I put all my eggs in that basket too. I know that is probably the most likely scenario, but last year most of us thought that Dale Jr. would end up with Richard Childress or Joe Gibbs too. Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. must have had some good laughs listening to and reading all those rumors that were flying around last year.

I've had the probably silly thought that Tony Stewart might want to be a part of the investment group that buys DEI. Nah, just couldn't happen, could it? Or what about Rick Hendrick? DEI gets Hendrick equipment, Dale Jr. gets a stake in DEI, JRM and DEI work in conjunction in the Nationwide Series and in driver development. Nah, never happen, or could it? If any or all these scenarios turned out to be true, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing I've ever seen in this sport.

Either way, it has been evident that DEI has lost some of their competitiveness over the last few years. Richard Childress partnered with DEI last year on the engine program, but thus far, DEI remains winless, and has only been a serious threat to win in no more than 2 or 3 races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had about as many blown engines as you can count on two hands last year, and was hardly ever a threat to win. And he didn't win. This year, Dale Jr. has been a threat in nearly every race he's run, and has won a points race at Michigan as well as the Bud Shootout and a qualifier race at Daytona in February. Dale Jr. has not blown an engine in a race all year. He's 2nd in points, and appears to be in serious contention for a championship. If DEI could have given him that kind of equipment and backing, he never would have left.

I'd love to see DEI run strong again, like they did in 2000 through 2004. I'd like to see people named Earnhardt involved in the ownership, whether it be Teresa or Dale Jr. I'd like to see the name stay Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, out of respect for the old man. I hope all this isn't wishful thinking, but I think it's time for a change.

I think it might be time to leave the widow Earnhardt in peace as well. She may not have always made the best business decisions when it came to the racing side of the business, but that was always her husband's job anyway. When Dale died in 2001, she never skipped a beat, and kept the roof on the building, kept the teams running, kept the sponsorship coming, and held it all together. All 3 of DEI's teams won after the death of Dale, and Teresa deserves a lot of credit for making that possible. Dale may have put the right people in the right places, but Teresa kept them there, at least for as long as she could.

Teresa was Dale's life partner, his business manager, the strongest force in the Great One's life.

I think she deserves a little peace.

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