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Blk3GM's Winston Cup News

Son's rise surprises Earnhardt
May 26, 1999 - By JIM UTTER Staff Writer - That's Racin'

Dale Earnhardt has a picture of himself and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., together in Victory Lane in 1990 when Dale Sr. won the Winston Cup championship.

``They said he was 16 years old in that picture, but he looks 10,'' the elder Earnhardt said. ``In 1998, eight years later, he's the Grand National champion. That's hard to believe.

``It's unbelievable the way your kids grow up and the way things change over the years.''

It's no different in stock-car racing.

At 7 tonight at Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will attempt to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600, his first Winston Cup race. Sunday's race will be the first of five he will attempt this season before moving full-time to the series in 2000.

The younger Earnhardt is trying to duplicate his father's feat. Earnhardt Sr. made his Winston Cup debut at Charlotte in 1975. He started 33rd and finished 22nd in his only race that season.

Since, Earnhardt Sr.'s trek through the Winston Cup ranks has been legend -- seven championships, legions of fans, fabulous on-track performances.

``When I came into Cup, I had already beat up and down the road in the sportsman division,'' Earnhardt Sr. said. ``I spent my money until I was broke. I didn't have nothing.

``It's a little different for (Earnhardt Jr.). Things are there for him. His team, his sponsors, things like that. I didn't have that when I started.

``He always says he had to work for it. He worked for it in the driving department and paying attention department, but he hasn't had to work for it and get it himself like we did. Things change.''

Much has changed in Winston Cup racing since Earnhardt Sr.'s debut 24 years ago.

The sport has ballooned, both in popularity and in the money it takes to be competitive and in what good drivers can command.

Another young star, Jeff Gordon, entered the series in 1993 at the age of 21 and won his first championship at 24 in 1995. Earnhardt Sr. was 29 when he won his first title in 1980.

Earnhardt Jr. will enter the series possibly with larger expectations than Gordon.

His debut in the Coca-Cola 600 has been dubbed ``Countdown to Little E Day.'' And his No. 8 Chevrolet was fastest in a test session at the track this month.

``The Cup deal coming into Charlotte is a big week for him. He's a young one, but he's handling it all pretty good,'' Earnhardt Sr. said this week of his son. ``He's going wide open with all the guys and team.

``He's handling things as they come. I sit down and talk to him and see where his head is every once in a while. I think he can handle it. The good thing is, he can come in here Wednesday and not worry about the (Grand National) car.

``If he does OK Wednesday, he can focus on the (Grand National) car Thursday. Then on Friday, we don't do any Cup stuff, so that will be good for him.''

Earnhardt Sr. said he has enjoyed watching Dale Jr.'s career rise and he hopes the same success on his other son, Kerry, who has driven on the Grand National circuit at times this season.

``I'm having fun with everything. I enjoy seeing (Dale Jr.) do what he's doing,'' Earnhardt Sr. said. ``The whole family is doing good.

``I'd like to see Kerry get something going, and he's got some things in the works. We're helping him sort some things out and maybe get something going for him.''

Though he encourages Earnhardt Jr. to live his own life, Earnhardt Sr. is quick to point out he doesn't plan to be too far away in case he's needed.

``Hopefully, everything will go right for him. There's pressure, but there's a lot of hope and investment in him as far as the sponsor and team. That's a big weight,'' Earnhardt Sr said.

``To not burden him with that and let him be himself and try to grow with the team and grow into it is important. I'm experienced enough to know and to help and watch.

``If I see something that's coming down on him too hard or putting too much pressure on him, I'll try to tune on it and take a little off.''

Dale Earnhardt Sr. (sunglasses) has confidence in son Dale Earnhardt Jr., last season's Grand National champion, but won't stray too far away in case he's needed.

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