Column: Earnhardt Blossoms into Multimedia Personality


CONCORD, NC (AP) – There’s a sharp episode on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s TV show that sums up his remarkable transformation from…

CONCORD, NC (AP) – There’s a sharp episode on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s TV show that sums up his remarkable transformation from a shy third-generation runner into a multimedia personality.

Earnhardt and his team of storytellers, ghost hunters and slash-racing enthusiasts film the second season of “Lost Speedways” at Myrtle Beach Speedway, the South Carolina track where Earnhardt says he learned “to be a racing Pilote”. His father had chosen Myrtle Beach nearly 30 years ago as a testing ground to launch his son’s career, and the episode “Goodbye, dear friend” is Earnhardt’s farewell to the highway that has closed at the end of last year.

The footage shows an 18-year-old, slim as a rail, who clearly had no idea where his career was headed. Earnhardt was happy to race late models, learn about cars, and barter for dinner with another racer who was sponsored by a chain of fried chicken.

“He was shy. He really didn’t want to interact with other people, ”runway announcer Bill Hennecy said in the episode. “The reason he didn’t interact is because ‘I’m an Earnhardt. They expect more from me. ” ‘

All these years later, Earnhardt is still shy.

He is married with two daughters, 46, a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and 15 times most popular driver by fan votes. Earnhardt still has social anxiety and was a wreck when NBC Sports kicked off their NASCAR coverage in Nashville with a heavily promoted pre-race show that featured him alongside country star Brad Paisley.

“I was terrified,” Earnhardt told The Associated Press of the mission. “But they give me the tools and if I do the job, study and prepare, I can get by. I can make it work.

Earnhardt accepted the NBC Sports job after his retirement in 2017, as the network gained his trust in early talks. Earnhardt would be reunited at the booth with his former crew chief Steve Letarte, and NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood assured him the network was backing him.

“Sam told me when he hired me, he said, ‘I’m never going to put you in a position of failure,’” Earnhardt said. “It was so great to hear from someone. I trust someone not to put me somewhere I’m not ready. I’ve been in scary situations, but I have the support, and it gives you the confidence to go out and do things, to show off, where probably 10 years ago I would have done a half – turn around and run away.

The media industry wasn’t entirely new to Earnhardt: Dirty Mo Media, an original content and production company, started in 2013 with the “Dale Jr. Download” podcast, which now airs on NBCSN and has grown into a valuable forum for the industry. . The guests are all chosen by Earnhardt, who treasures their racing stories and traditions.

Mike Davis met Earnhardt in 2004 as a representative of Budweiser when he sponsored the runner. He is now CEO of the Dale Jr. brand, founder of Dirty Mo and co-executive producer of “Lost Speedways” alongside Earnhardt and co-host Matthew Dillner.

Dirty Mo has grown every year and no longer relies on Earnhardt for its best content. Davis said three new shows not involving Earnhardt are currently in production.

Between NBC and Dirty Mo, Earnhardt has an after-race life. He is still part-owner of JR Motorsports, an Xfinity Series team that plans to move to the top of the Cup Series. Even in retirement, he is still NASCAR’s best ambassador.

People can expect more from him because he is an Earnhardt and has delivered in so many ways. He is really passionate about his projects and loves to talk about racing more than anything. This job doesn’t look like a job, he said, and he’s learned to deliver for an audience.

Earnhardt said he never greets a podcast guest until a show starts because he wants the welcome to be genuine when the cameras roll.

The same goes for “Lost Speedways”, a Dirty Mo production and a Peacock original. The eight-episode second season kicks off Friday and stops include the Daytona Beach & Road Course and Texas World, an episode starring none other than “Lone Star JR” Johnny Rutherford. NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison appears in “Engine Wars” at Columbia Speedway in South Carolina.

Earnhardt lets the legends tell the stories. He tries not to learn much about the race track before arriving because he wants to see and feel the place, then wander the property looking for any forgotten artifacts, book of markers, broken spotlight – all that remains.

“It’s best for me to learn on camera because that’s when I’m all excited, I have the most energy,” Earnhardt said. “If I already knew everything when we arrived, I would be boring and boring.

Earnhardt is sucked into the history of every track, and when it comes to the early days of NASCAR, he’s fascinated to hear full versions of events long whispered, or told in half-truths or exaggerations.

“Sometimes you’re in the middle of these shows and you’re like, ‘Maybe we don’t want to know what happened. Maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe NASCAR doesn’t want this discovered, ”Earnhardt said. “I don’t know if I want to piss people off.”

This is the part of the new job that Earnhardt struggles with the most, going from NASCAR Ambassador to impartial observer. But he strives to be both authentic and legitimate in his presentations.

The pressures are so different from his driving days. Fellow analyst Jeff Burton assured Earnhardt when he joined the network that the job in the broadcast booth was tough – but good, bad, or indifferent, it’s always easier than running because the show is over when the checkered flag flies.

“Those race cars were hot and miserable and when you weren’t running well, which was most often the case, it was hard to mentally compartmentalize that, the frustration and the failure,” Earnhardt said.

“We don’t bring home what’s going on in the pit like these guys on the track. We are not a racing driver who leaves and is miserable for days on end, ”he said. “When I retired it was the only thing I looked forward to, getting away from all that pressure. It’s a different pressure, and I agree with that.


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