Nationwide makes "Appreci88ion" event a night to remember for Dale Jr.

Charles Barkley did his best to advise Dale Earnhardt Jr., on life after retirement from full-time competition.

Nationwide makes "Appreci88ion" event a night to remember for Dale Jr.
Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Charles Barkley and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Greg Ives

The NBA legend turned TBS analyst was one of many guests at “Appreci88ion, an Evening with Dale Jr.” Barkley acknowledged that TV talent is rewarded well for watching sports but suggested finding a hobby such as golf or fishing to fill the time. When Earnhardt disclosed he was a hunter, Barkley bristled at waking up and shooting Bambi in the face.

"Weird" to know he won't be coming back

Although it’s been just over a week since NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver climbed from the car at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, Earnhardt admitted he’s still acclimating to life after racing.

“It’s felt weird, to be honest with you, to be finished with the season and knowing that you’re not going to go back and start another one is a weird feeling,” Earnhardt said in the green room prior to the bash. “Being away from the sport is so weird. Just being home for Thanksgiving is a very odd feeling—and not a comfortable feeling at all. I’m always going to want to be around the track. I’m always going to want to be around the sport and involved in the competition somehow, some way.

“If I ever thought I was just going to quit cold turkey, I must have been kidding myself because just away for a couple of days, it’s difficult.”

The Earnhardts returned to North Carolina and enjoyed Thanksgiving with Dale Jr.'s mother, who recently moved onto the “Dirty Mo Acres” compound in the house vacated by his sister Kelley. After a turkey hunting trip in Ohio, they flew to Las Vegas where Nationwide announced the creation of The Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund for pediatric injury rehabilitation, research and prevention at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (Columbus, Ohio) on Tuesday.

Philanthropy

While early retirement maybe challenging at times, clearly Earnhardt’s philanthropic passion will help ease his transition.

“Most recently, in the last several years, I was introduced to the hospital by Nationwide,” Earnhardt said. “Me and Nationwide are very close partners, and they said, ‘Hey, this is what we focus on, this is what we have an interest in, and we’d love to introduce it to you and see what you think.’

“As soon as you go there, the first tour that they gave me was so impactful. It’s amazing that there’s a place like that with such incredible care, such first-class care—for free. Families can come in there and get what they need.”

And no, retirement will not include an appearance on Dancing With the Stars—no matter what the compensation.

“That’s never going to happen, I promise you,” Earnhardt said emphatically. “There’s nothing in this world that would get me out on their dance floor. I would match it (a charitable gift as an inducement) just to be able to stay off the dance floor. I’d be willing to do a lot of things. That’s not one of ‘em.”

Following his media availability, Earnhardt moved into the Rose.Rabbit.Lie theater at the Cosmopolitan. He joined his long-time brand manager Mike Davis on stage for the main event—which was sponsored by Nationwide. The intimate setting was flanked with bars on either side of the stage—one for selected guests and another for the fans who donated the price of admission to support Earnhardt’s favorite cause—Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Earnhardt was feted by Jimmie Johnson, who described the lengths it took to get his teammate in spandex and on a bike. Mike Helton and Earnhardt recounted his first trip to the NASCAR hauler—and later in the show former crew chiefsTony Eury Jr. and Tony Eury Sr., backed up the tale. Tony Stewart, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett offered input on how to deal with the media when he moved over to NBC Sports next year. And the Dirty Mo’ Posse—including newly crowned NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr., offered accounts of Earnhardt’s early days (and late nights) in racing as fans howled with delight.

But the highlight of the night—and the grand finale— came when Nationwide offered the Earnhardts a check to advance the Fund for $888,888.88. A gift that will ease the path for ailing children and their parents.

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