Earnhardt comfortable with many miles to go
Oct. 8, 1999 - By SCOTT FOWLER, The Charlotte Observer
CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt looked content right where he was Thursday morning -- sprawled out in the back of his transporter, his feet propped up, flicking a remote control.
Earnhardt was comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that he wants everyone to know he's not even considering going anywhere else.
``I don't know why people talk about Dale Earnhardt retiring or even thinking about retiring, as competitive as we've been this year,'' said Earnhardt, who is 48 and seventh in the 1999 Winston Cup points race.
In fact, Earnhardt said, he plans to drive his No. 3 car at least through 2003.
He and team owner Richard Childress are close to signing a three-year extension to keep him driving for that long. Earnhardt would be 52 when that contract runs out.
Good for Earnhardt. It would be a shame if he didn't stick around for several more years.
This sport needs an Intimidator -- even one who has grown sort of sweet around the edges.
Earnhardt's image has undergone a transformation in the late 1990s. No longer is he considered the nasty man in black, the one who forced fans to either love or hate him. Now his image is more complicated - still a little nasty (remember Bristol?), but also somewhat nice. Santa Claus would have a difficult time knowing which list Earnhardt belongs on anymore.
This image softening, Earnhardt believes, is mostly due to the emergence of his 24-year-old son, Dale Jr., as a rising star in stock-car racing. The incessant retirement questions dogging Earnhardt Sr. may have stemmed from that, too.
``My son coming into the sport has probably made the biggest difference,'' Earnhardt said. ``It caused more focus on me being an elder of the sport than of being just Dale Earnhardt. Before Dale Jr. came on the scene, nobody really talked about me being an older guy or retiring or any of that. All that's changed now.''
Earnhardt Sr.'s surge in 1999 has put to rest thoughts that the game has passed him by. The seven-time Winston Cup champion (he won the last one of those in 1994) has been a steady factor. Earnhardt finished second last weekend in Martinsville, has won twice in 1999 and boasts six top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.
It is the first time in six seasons that Earnhardt's top-five and top-10 finishes haven't declined from the preceding season.
Earnhardt has won 11 races at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in his career, and thinks he has a decent chance to make it an even dozen Sunday afternoon.
The Intimidator's confidence remains, but it is seasoned with reason - he is far more self-assured about his ability to run a 500-mile race than a one-lap qualifying dash.
``I know your age has got to take some of the sharpness and the reflexes out of you, but the experience and the knowledge should overcome some of that,'' Earnhardt said. ``I think that's why my qualifying has been a little bit on the tough side this year. There are times when the reflexes, the edge, needs to be a little sharper.''
Earnhardt qualified 17th for the UAW-GM Quality 500 Wednesday night, and he was happy with that. He hates to fight the qualifying battle on a second day, after the top 25 spots are already taken, but has had to do that a number of times the past few seasons.
``Those young guys can maybe outdo me on a one-lap deal,'' Earnhardt said. ``But when the race starts, here I come and there they go.''
Earnhardt grew up in Kannapolis, so he always feels like a race in the Charlotte area is a home game for him. He can drive home each night and then back to the race track each day, uniform under his arm, ready to go to work again.
He will own two Winston Cup race teams in 2000, as Dale Jr. moves to a full-time Winston Cup schedule and Steve Park continues driving for Earnhardt.
Earnhardt has earned more than $35 million driving a race car. His place as a NASCAR legend has long been secure. But he believes challenges still await.
``Being a championship car owner,'' Earnhardt says. ``Seeing our team grow. Seeing Dale Jr. come along. As I step out of the car and step into that car owner's role, I can still come and be a part of that garage area. That's going to be fun and important.''
But that, Earnhardt stresses, is still several years and thousands of laps down the road.
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.