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Blk3GM's Dale Earnhardt Site

Earnhardt Jr. following intimidating footsteps
By Michael Vega, Globe Staff, 07/09/99

LOUDON, N.H. - He isn't just Generation X; Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Generation Next. He isn't just the Second Coming; he's the Second Coming of the Intimidator. A dyed-in-the-wool racer just like his father, Dale Sr., and his late grandfather, Ralph, Dale Jr. - or ''Little E'' as he has come to be known in NASCAR Winston Cup circles - has emerged as the heir to the family throne once his father, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, steps down and focuses his attention on being a full-time owner.

And when the torch is finally passed, Junior's crown will rest - fashionably tipped to one side, no doubt - atop his way cool, blond-dyed, Caesar-cut hairdo.

If Dale Earnhardt Sr., a huge fan of Brooks and Dunn, is a little bit country (and western), then his 24-year-old namesake, an avid drummer, is certainly a product of the music of his times; an amalgam of rock 'n' roll ... grunge ... alternative ... hip-hop ... and rap. Junior's eclectic musical tastes range from Nirvana to Pearl Jam to Limp Bizkit to Puff Daddy and to Bridge, an upstart group of alternative musicians from North Carolina whom Earnhardt befriended and has actively promoted.

But when it came to Earnhardt's own much-anticipated Winston Cup debut in the Coca-Cola 600 May 30 in Charlotte, N.C., the distant drum beat became more intense with each day that led to his first start in the No. 8 Budweiser-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo fielded by his father's team, Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his second of five Winston Cup apprenticeship runs Sunday in the Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. But he'll arrive a bit banged up with the chipped right shoulder blade he suffered in a wall crash during a practice run for last Sunday's DieHard 250 Busch Series race in West Allis, Wis.

''I'm still a little sore now, but I'm ready to go,'' said Earnhardt, who started from the back of the pack and finished third. ''The worst thing about getting hurt was spending the three days in therapy that I could have used doing stuff I wanted to do.''

Like getting in some practice time on his drum set.

Still, Little E's meteoric rise from reigning Busch Series champion and current points leader to the Winston Cup stage was not unlike a garage rock musician making his live concert debut at an all-star jam session before a packed 100,000-seat stadium.

''My dad and all my family and fans were all like, `Hell, yeah. This is the weekend we're finally going to get to see Junior run,''' Earnhardt recalled during a break in an NHIS test session last month. ''I was like, `I'm finally going to get to race,' and everybody had a good attitude about it.''

Everybody, it seemed, except his father.

After Dale Jr. turned a tight lap around the bumpy, 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte to earn the No. 8 position in the starting grid, outperforming his father, who qualified 14th, reporters rushed to Earnhardt Sr. for a comment. But the Intimidator was surprisingly lukewarm and not at all effusive in his praise of his son's accomplishment.

''It went a hundred times better than I expected it to go, but we just knew that from testing we had a pretty good package for that [qualifying run],'' said Dale Jr., who wound up finishing 16th after running up front for a time during the grueling 600-mile race. ''I was really glad we accomplished that because there were so many opportunities for mistakes in that qualifying run. So when it was over with, I was like, `Yeah,''' - he pumped his fist - ''`That's what I was expecting.'''

As for his father's reaction?

''Yeah, he was a little standoffish,'' Dale Jr. acknowledged. ''He's just very careful about that. I don't know if he does it out of aggravation, because people pester him with questions about `What do you think about Dale Jr.? What do you think about Dale Jr?' Or maybe he does it because he feels like it's going to put pressure on me, but I don't think it's gonna.

''I don't know why he feels that way, but he's just very careful about what he says about me, and what he does about me. I don't know, but he just doesn't want me to get overconfident or whatever.''

Said Earnhardt Sr., ''He surprised a lot of people, including me. We knew he could drive a race car, but until you start winning on the racetrack and see how you react to the daily pressure, it's hard to know what you've got inside you.''

That explains why Earnhardt has been so protective of his son's career, and why it was decided to carefully choose five races to acclimate Dale Jr. to the rough-and-tumble, dog-eat-dog environment of the Winston Cup circuit before he began a full-time campaign next season.

''You hope your kids turn out OK and then when they take up what you do, you worry about 'em because of the danger factor,'' Dale Sr. said. ''I didn't tell him no, but just let them do what they've got to do. I guess he's watched enough tapes of his granddaddy to learn how to drive.

''He looks like he's been doing it for a while. He's got good rhythm and feel for the cars. He's got confidence and he really communicates well with the crew. If he stays focused, then whatever happens happens and, hopefully, the championships will come.''

But Dale Jr. realizes that for that to be a possibility, many factors have to fall into place. You have to have the right situation, the right owner, the right team, the right sponsor and, most important, the right equipment.

It all had to be just right, especially if he was to shoulder the awesome responsibility of carrying on his family's name.

''I just didn't want to become a failure too quickly or to be labeled a failure too early,'' Dale Jr. said, citing his biggest concerns about making the jump to Winston Cup. ''There's a lot of people out there, a lot of race car drivers who can accomplish things but will never get the chance. There's some drivers who may be really, really good race car drivers, but got the wrong equipment or got involved with the wrong team and were not competitive.

''Those are the things I was worried about. I didn't want to be labeled a loser or a no talent. But [driving for his father] feels natural and it feels comfortable and, hopefully, it can continue at this pace. I feel ready and I feel willing to do it. I just want everybody here to have the same winning attitude.''

This story ran on page E01 of the Boston Globe on 07/09/99.

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Blk3GM's Dale Earnhardt Site was born on July 26, 1998 and is owned and maintained by Gary Harris.  This site is a tribute to "NASCAR's Greatest Driver" and his up and coming son.  We are not affiliated with any official Team, Sponsors, Media Group or NASCAR.  This site is solely for entertainment purposes.  Information and statistic's on this site have been collected from various NASCAR related sites on the internet, from Winston Cup Scene, Newspapers, Television and our personal experience at Winston Cup and Busch Grand National races.  All statistics are believed to be accurate at the time they are updated but cannot be guaranteed.
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