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NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. - From boy to Superstar

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. - From boy to Superstar

Chris DiCicco
February 15, 2008

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., was born October 10th, 1974 in Concord, North Carolina with the Earnhardt fire in his belly. Although his parents were separated when he was still a toddler, he is still very close to both his parents. A fire that burned down his mother’s house forced him and his sister, Kelly, to live with Earnhardt Sr. and his new wife, Teresa, while his mother moved to Virginia. Earnhardt Jr. was a bit of a rascal in his younger days so when his father saw fit to send him to military school for two years although, by the time Earnhardt Jr. reached the age of 15, he decided to be like his father.

When he was 17, Earnhardt Jr. managed to pull together $500 after scrimping and saving to buy his first racecar from a junkyard. It was a 1979 Monte Carlo that needed a lot of work. Then he, his half-brother, Kerry, and father worked at fixing it up. His father was only determined to help with rebuilding the racecar and nothing more. Earnhardt Jr. was left on his own devices once he got behind the wheel to learn how to build up his own skills. Once high school was over, Earnhardt Jr. enrolled for a two year course at the Mitchell Community College in North Carolina. He signed up for a course in automotives and during that time, he worked as a mechanic with his father. Word got around quick about his oil changes.

With his co-owned racecar (Kerry had a say in it), Earnhardt Jr. went on to join the Late Model Stock Car division. It was then that he fine tuned his skills and gained more much needed knowledge on cars. One of his competitors then was his sister, Kelley. The only third generation NASCAR champion only began his racing career at age 17. He won the 1998 and 1999 Busch series titles over Matt Kenseth. In 2000, Earnhardt Jr., competed for his first Winston Cup victory. He also wrote a non-fiction book titled “DRIVER #8” which was primarily based on his rookie season.

The year after was one of the worst years for Earnhardt Jr. In 2001, he finished second in the 2001 Daytona 500 but his father had crashed in turn four and did not survive. Earnhardt Sr’s death did visibly shake Earnhardt Jr’s demeanor although he did race at Rockingham the following weekend. Eerily enough, he finished at the 43rd place after a wreck that was very similar to the one that his father had perished in the week earlier. Earnhardt Jr. got back on his feet and won more races at Dover, Talladega and Daytona.

In 2002, Earnhardt Jr. had to suffer through a concussion at Fontana in April which resulted in finishing places that were no better than the 30th spot. He did however bounce back and was able to get two more wins at Talladega as well as a pair of Bud Pole Awards and an 11-th place finish in the standings. In 2003, Earnhardt Jr. was really showing his true nettle when he was awarded the NMPA Most Popular Driver award as well as winning at Phoenix in October. He has gone on to win a great many more championships which, many agree, would have made Earnhardt Sr. proud.

Earnhardt Jr. is not just an excellent racer, he is also a business man. He owns Hammerhead Entertainment which is a media production company and he is also partners with the investors who are currently building the Alabama Motorsports Park, A Dale Earnhardt Jr. Speedway. He has also made several cameos on music video clips, on radio and several TV shoes and advertisements.

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