Dale Jr. humble about huge opportunity By Shawn A. Akers MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 21, 1998) Like his father, it takes quite a bit to impress Dale Earnhardt Jr. With that in mind, the son of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion...
Dale Jr. humble about huge opportunity By Shawn A. Akers
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 21, 1998) Like his father, it takes quite a bit to impress Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With that in mind, the son of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt stood in awe and with humility when it was announced to the media Monday that he had been named as the driver of a second NASCAR Winston Cup Series team for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and with one of the premier sponsors in all of sports, Budweiser, beginning next season and running through the year 2004.
Not that the younger Earnhardt hasn't earned his stripes on the track this season, mind you. In his first full year in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, Dale Jr. has won six races and leads the standings by 140 points over Matt Kenseth with six races remaining.
But to sign such a lucrative deal with an organization like Dale Earnhardt Inc., and with a sponsor like Budweiser, well, it's more than most 23-year-olds can ever dream of.
"This is huge, it's massive," Earnhardt Jr. said of the annoucement that will see him drive five NASCAR Winston Cup Series races in 1999 and begin a full-time schedule in the series in the year 2000. "You look around at what Budweiser's got their hands into. They're doing championship boxing matches, they're into football with all the games and all the teams, it's incredible. We're just a small facet of what they have.
"They're investing a lot, not just money. They're investing their reputation on me. They're putting that on the line, and you've got to respect and appreciate that. It's like investing in the stock market. You never know what's gonna happen. Just 'cause you're a good race car driver doesn't mean you're gonna go out there and immediately win races. If we're not up to par in some areas, it could hurt the team. We have to make sure they've got all the pieces there, and that's why we announced this so early so we can go ahead and start preparing ourselves."
Not only has Budweiser, who will honor it's contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 1999 campaign, made a huge investment in their future with Earnhardt Jr., but so has Dale Earnhardt Inc., who has seen its latest protege emerge into one of the sport's rising stars.
Even officials at DEI couldn't have predicted the amount of success Dale Jr. has enjoyed in his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series in the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet.
"He's definitely exceeded our expectations of him," Dale Sr. said. "That's why we've been fortunate to have someone like him and a sponsor like Budweiser that wants to invest in the future of Dale Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Inc. And it's an investment. It's even sort of a longshot to see if we can get it all together that quickly. I'm impressed, excited and amazed at how quickly it's happened for Dale Jr., but also for Dale Earnhardt Inc. To put this kind of deal together is really something else.
"He (Dale Jr.) went a little further than we thought (this year), so that escalated the hype on him," said Don Hawk, of DEI. "Unless somebody's not giving us the right numbers, this is probably the biggest sponsor/owner/driver contract there is right now. It's a unique thing.
"It's probably bigger than his daddy's or Jeff Gordon's. I don't mean that in a bad way to either of them, it's just showing the escalation of the sport and to what Dale Jr. referred to as the confidence they're placing in him to move this thing to the next level."
Dale Sr. said his son will be a busy man next season. In addition to his NASCAR Busch Series schedule and the five races he'll run in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series for Budweiser and DEI, Dale Sr. also plans to have Dale Jr. test extensively in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series car to prepare him for the 2000 season.
"We're going to wear him out a lot on the race track," Dale Sr. said. "It's going to be interesting to see how he does and how he'll hold up. We've got a lot of great things at Dale Earnhardt Inc., that are forthcoming that will make this team even better. He's going to have a lot to do next year, that's for sure."
While Dale Jr. won't be in awe of his situation once he hits the race track, he knows that success won't come as easy as it has this season. For one thing, he'll be a rookie, and rookies always tend to go through a huge learning curve. All he has to do is ask his future teammate, Steve Park, about that.
He'll also have to race against his father, which has been no easy task for the other competitors on the track for the past 20 years.
"Yeah, it surely ain't gonna be easy," Dale Jr. said. "Nobody's going to help me or give me any brakes, especially the way we've run lately. I tested some with the team we've got now (the Pennzoil team) at Talladega, but those intermediate and short tracks are going to be entirely different. I'm going to have to earn everything I get, I expect to have to learn quite a bit once I get up to Cup. It's going to be a whole new world."
Source: NASCAR Online