The following is a transcript from Thursday's news conference, in which NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his plans to drive for a new team in 2008: MIKE DAVIS (Moderator): Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. My...
The following is a transcript from Thursday's news conference, in which NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his plans to drive for a new team in 2008:
MIKE DAVIS (Moderator): Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. My name is Mike Davis. I am the Communications Director here at JR Motorsports. It's a pleasure to have you here today.
What I'd like to do is introduce to you our featured speakers for this news conference. To my right we have 17-time winner in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Vice President and General Manager of JR Motorsports, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge.
Dale Jr. Will read an opening statement and we will then open it up for questions. Keep in mind there will not be a separate breakout session. With that said, it's my pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Thanks, Mike. We're here today to talk, at last, about my contract at DEI. First off, let me say how much I appreciate the media understanding and being patient throughout the negotiations to keep this as private as we wanted to keep it.
For those of you who know me, you know I hate keeping things under wraps, and I'm usually pretty honest, but it was something that was absolutely necessary as the negotiations progressed. I told you all season long that when we have something to announce, we'd announce it. So we're calling this press conference here today to announce that after a year of intense negotiations and intense effort on behalf of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and JR Motorsports, that we've decided it is time for us to move on and seek other opportunities to drive for a new team in 2008.
We've both worked extremely hard to find a common ground, but as the negotiations continued, one thing became evident, we both want to get to the same place, but we both simply have different visions on how to get there.
Because DEI means so much to me, I felt it was best now for both of us to start focusing on our future so that we both could come out of this successfully. Trust me when I say that DEI will come out of this successfully. Teresa and Max Seigel are taking the necessary steps to bring DEI back to one of the front-running NASCAR teams.
However, at 32 years of age, the same age as my father was when he made his final and most important career decision, it is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now. What team I drive for next season, I don't know. We'll see what opportunities I have, we'll see who wants to hire me, who is interested for me to drive their race cars, and we'll decide from there. That is an announcement, obviously, for a later date.
Today I want to say with complete sincerity that it's been a privilege to drive for DEI, and it will continue to be a privilege throughout this season. It's really all I've ever known. We've grown together, we've won together and we've lost together. It is important for me that my father's legacy continues.
I would like nothing more than for DEI to continue building its future around good people, hard work and relentless determination. The same characteristics that were so evident in the man who built the place. We will continue to work together on many projects that will benefit both DEI and JR Motorsports, and the legacy of my father.
All the while, it is time for me to continue his legacy and the way I only know I can -- by taking the life lessons that he taught me, be a man, race hard, and contend for championships. Since that is what I plan to do, I feel strongly that I would have my father's blessing.
If I may speak openly to my fans, my dad's fans and fans of DEI and all of the people who watch NASCAR racing each weekend, please understand that my decision is one I make for my career. I make it with the utmost respect to your loyalty and support. My motivation to climb in the race car each week is to satisfy my fans and give them what I feel they deserve.
I want to also thank some of my family members for being here today to support me. Obviously, my sister, my mother, Brenda, and my grandmother, Martha Earnhardt and my Aunt Cathy. All of my family has been really supportive throughout this, and I want to thank them for that. So we'll open it up to any questions you guys might have for me or my sister.
Q: Was there one specific thing that led to this decision? And about what time did the two of you decide that what was best for Dale Jr., was to move on?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Well, we'll keep the instances and circumstances throughout the contract and the negotiations private. I don't think it's really important to get into that. But I can honestly say that we weren't really close with what we both had in mind.
Like I said, they have every intention of running well and doing well. We just have a difference of opinion on how we get there. But you know, we've been pretty honest with the media as far as what we were doing, what our decision was. We stayed positive throughout the negotiations to work toward our goal and this brought us here today.
Q: Can you talk about in light of the fact you're going to be the most sought after driver in the history of this sport, your sense of excitement looking forward to that?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, that's kind of the deal, I'm sort of split down the middle. I drove for DEI my entire career. It's been successful and been a lot of fun. We've had a lot of -- we've done a lot of great things and I believe that company will continue to do good things and continue to surprise people.
I'm going to miss a lot of the relationships within the shop itself and the individuals that work there. They have my full support, mentally and what not. But the other half of me is really excited about what my opportunities might be and what lays out there, you know.
We're just going to, we sort of have carved this out between me and my sister. We worked really hard to come to an agreement with DEI, and that was what we focused on throughout the entire negotiations. Me and her haven't had a moment to really sit down and talk about what our opportunities are. We will certainly start to seek those out and see where we feel we would be most comfortable. But I don't really -- I've never been in this position before, so I don't know what to expect, and we'll just have to deal with each bridge as we cross it.
Q: I assume that every car owner's going to be blowing up your cell phone starting right now. And I guess you have your pick of where you want to go. Are you open to listening to non- Chevrolet teams? And what happens with Budweiser? Are they going with you?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: We have a great relationship with Budweiser and those things will definitely be discussed and dealt with in a timely fashion. I enjoy driving Chevrolets and my relationship with Chevrolet is very, very strong and I feel like that is where I'd be best suited to continue driving Chevrolets.
Q: For both Dale Jr., and Kelley. During the negotiations y'all both expressed a desire to make a family business that everybody could share in for a long time out of DEI. What does this change do to your plans and desires to have a family business?
Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: I think at this point that hasn't really changed for us. We're still Earnhardts. We still have a relationship with Teresa and Kerry and Taylor. For whatever the future holds for us as participants in Dale Earnhardt, Inc., there's lots of years to figure that out. And Dale and I both want to be very supportive of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and their efforts because it is our family name as well. So we will do everything we can to support their rebuilding that team and the efforts that they're putting forth to make that team successful.
From a timing standpoint, it's just the time for us to prepare for 2008, and this decision had to be made because of that for both sides. DEI needs to move forward with what their plans are for 2008, and so do we. So the timing was a situation where if we couldn't come to terms we both felt best just to move forward.
Q: This is a big cart-before-the-horse kind of question. But your fans are going to want to know, the 8, does that come with you? Car number? Obviously you can't answer that question until you know where you're going. But what number would you like to have on the side your car wherever you drive next year?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Well, I'll be happy with I'm sure whatever decision we make, whatever decision we make we'll be really happy and excited about. It would be awesome to continue driving the No. 8, but those numbers are obviously owned by the car owners and that is probably something that Teresa would prefer to have stay at DEI. I'm assuming that's probably what will be the case.
Q: Tony Jr., told me in the past if you went he'd go. And there's been some speculation that Martin Truex may join you, are either of those true?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: I can't really speak for Tony Jr. Tony Jr., will do what Tony Jr. wants to do. We have a great working relationship, and I enjoy working with Tony Jr. Martin is in the same boat as you guys are. He's probably watching this as we speak.
He's been a great teammate and he's a great friend of mine, and he'll continue to be a great teammate and great friend of mine, but he is not part of this discussion or this situation. He's not particularly part of any of our future discussions, whatever those may be, you know.
Q: You seem very at peace lately, chatting with you. It seems like this was an easy decision or you're very much at peace with it. When you addressed the employees over there, they said it was a quiet, sad moment. Can you talk about what's in your heart right now about addressing the employees at DEI, and whether you're going to take any of the Bud Team with you or if you can?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, you know, it's hard to say what's been the hardest part, the hardest thing to deal with in my life. We've had a lot of great things happen, but we've also dealt with some tragedies. I was very sad earlier today. It was really hard talk to go the employees, talking to my team, I don't expect those guys to understand fully.
I told them whatever their opinions and emotions were is fair, however they react and what not. I told them that I wanted to run as hard as we could run the rest of the year. It was important to me that we ran as good as we could run. I think that we owe it to DEI to give our best effort each week. And I hope that they would feel the same way.
I mean, talking to the employees as a whole, you know, was just really, really difficult for me. But I feel very comfortable with my decision. I just don't expect everyone at DEI to fully understand, you know, why we or how we came to this. I can't really speculate or guess on, you know, what individuals might be interested in what we're going to do in the future. I guess that would be a case-by-case basis and whatever opportunities might be out there for them, I support my team, my guys no matter what they do. What they choose to do, just as we support DEI in the future.
Like Kelley said, the company is still part of our family. It's what my father built and conceived with his hard work, and we want to see it succeed and be successful. This decision is made today based solely on my driving career, not my, you know, not my personal interests in my involvement with DEI and what not. You know, we still want to see that company work and succeed.
I'll just have to see what's out there for us. We've got to sit down and decide what we want to. So we're going to listen, and it doesn't cost anything to listen, so we're going to listen to whoever wants to have a conversation with us and move from there.
Q: Guys, is forming your own Cup team one of the options you're considering, and do you have a timetable for wanting to get something done?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Kelley knows a lot about the timetable, that's sort of what she's been concerning with. We don't -- I can't sit here right now and honestly tell you that one thing's out in front of another on what things we might want to do in the future. We're just going to look at everything clearly and see what we feel would be best for us. We obviously want to be doing things that would complement JR Motorsports. Complement my efforts here with the Busch teams and the Hooters Pro Cup teams and the Late Model teams. We want to give our employees here the best opportunity to be successful. I would hope that whatever I may decide to do would complement those ideals. So as far as a timeline, I think Kelley would be able to answer that for you.
Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: I think that if we -- there is time to start our own Cup effort, if that's what we chose to do. Again, just like this decision, there will be a time that that wouldn't be feasible. We have like Dale said, our work cut out for us to engage ourselves with other teams and listen to what the opportunities are and I believe our first choice would be to drive for another top competitive team. Our last choice would be to form our own Cup team. But if that was necessary, that's what we would do.
Q: You said your dad would have approved of this move. All indications are though that he intended when he built Dale Earnhardt, Inc., he intended it to be a company for yourself, Kelley, and Kerry long-term. What do you think he would have thought if he knew that the long-term future of DEI didn't include two of his children?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: What was the last part there?
Continued in part 2