Earnhardt family feud heats up

The Earnhardt family feud is heating up. Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of the late Dale Earnhardt and stepmother of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took a pot-shot at the young driver in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. When asked about Earnhardt, Jr. and...

The Earnhardt family feud is heating up.

Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of the late Dale Earnhardt and stepmother of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took a pot-shot at the young driver in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.

When asked about Earnhardt, Jr. and his relationship with his father's legacy, Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, Earnhardt told the WSJ, "Right now the ball's in his court to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality."

Earnhardt, Jr. is the face of NASCAR's youth movement and the most sought after driver for interviews and television appearances. He has struggled over the years to balance his celebrity with his driving duties, and is often teased about his hard partying and loathing of early mornings.

But no driver has shown he can straddle such commitments as Earnhardt. 2006 was perhaps his breakout season, as he showed a level of maturity unmatched in previous years on the circuit. He competed for the Nextel Cup, and if not for a bump by Brian Vickers at Talladega, he was emerging as a genuine threat for the title.

Currently, Earnhardt's contract to drive the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet expires at the end of the 2007 season. Contractual talks have been ongoing but DEI and its only namesake have failed to reach a long-term agreement.

This is not the first time the two Earnhardts have tangled. Up until June of this year the widow refused to give Earnhardt the rights to his name.

"Sometimes I wish I had a different first name," Earnhardt commented to The Charlotte Observer earlier this year. "Teresa (Earnhardt, his stepmother and team owner) has her idea of what she wants to do with Dad's name over the next several years. And I'm still racing in my career and doing my thing and I have the same name.

"So it gets hard because we're sort of in the middle of trying to get the rights. I don't have the rights to my name. I'm trying to get 'em. She (Teresa Earnhardt) don't want to come off it too easy, because she wants to make sure my dad's name is always thought of as the way it is. If I didn't have the same name -- and I kind of wish I didn't sometimes -- I wouldn't have to be worrying about it."

Allegedly, she wanted to protect the way the Earnhardt name was used and there were some misgivings of how Earnhardt, Jr. would portray his father's legacy. After great scrutiny and pressure from the press, she finally acquiesced and gave Earnhardt naming rights back.

Earnhardt was also dogged by rumors in 2004, after suffering injuries in an American Le Mans race that his stepmother was refusing to fly him to and from races on any of the company planes because his real mother, Brenda, was accompanying him to help take care of his burn wounds.

While Earnhardt denied those reports multiple team sources from DEI and Richard Childress Racing (who took over the job of getting Earnhardt and his mother to the track) confirmed that Teresa Earnhardt had indeed expressed her dissatisfaction with Brenda's presence and the fact that Earnhardt had sustained those burns while driving in a non-NASCAR extracurricular race, killing his chances of a championship that season.

Teresa has also expressed her displeasure over Earnhardt, Jr.'s statement that at some point in is career he would like to drive the infamous No. 3 Chevrolet once piloted by his father.

"That is something that is an opportunity for us, and it would be fun for me and Richard to do something like that in the future," Earnhardt said in 2005. "We haven't sat down and decided that is what we will do, but maybe the last one or two years in my career, that's a possibility.

"I look forward to it. That is just something we just leave laying out there and joke about it, but it is something that we want to do, and we will do."

But the widow Earnhardt is not amenable to that ever happening, "Contrary to popular belief, everyone cannot be replaced," she said on the television special, NASCAR Five Years Later. "Legends live on forever. I don't think the No.3 will ever be driven by anyone else."

With the momentum of 2006 in his pocket, Earnhardt is poised to have one of his best seasons ever in 2007. As a further sign of his maturity level rising, he declined to address that statements made to the Wall Street Journal.

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Brian Vickers
Teams Richard Childress Racing