Volume III, Issue 9, Page 3

News and Analysis

A Rare Inside Look at Dale Jr.

Intensity, Over the Top, and Throwing ‘F’ Bombs

Any professional athlete maintains a steady dialogue inside their head during their activity on the track. They do this to bring themselves up to the performance level that they need to excel, a level that often dances the line between super intense and over the top. Recently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed that line, both by his own admission and by the rash of reports in the media.

Jr. had been doing the usual back and forth between his longtime crew chief, Tony Eury. They were talking about what the car was doing and what Tony could do to it to make it better. The intensity of both escalated and Jr. kinda went off on Tony. But remember, it’s go time in NASCAR racing with the final ten races that will determine the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. So intensities are up as are emotions. Also remember, the two are cousins and have been in racing and working together their entire lives. The volatile situation was defused when car owner Rick Hendrick got on the radio and talked to Jr. Now the press is jumping on this with both feet – mostly because it is Chase news but also because it brings to light a seldom seen facet of NASCAR racing.

In a rare and candid look at what goes on inside a driver’s head and what goes into making changes and still being a winner, Jr. openly explains what happened and what has happened since then.

: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BRING YOUR “A” GAME EVERY WEEK DURING THE CHASE? 

Dale Earnhardt Jr: “I don’t know, you know. You show up every week and your car runs good, [and] as a driver, you try to make the least amount of mistakes you can. I mean, we are all real good drivers being in the Chase. The guy that handles the pressure best and not make mistakes.”

: IS THAT WHAT YOU FEEL IS YOUR STRONGEST PART ON THE TEAM?

DEJ: “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask somebody else.”

: IS IT HARD TO BREAK OLD HABITS IN THE CAR?

DEJ: “It depends on what it is. If it is a new habit, then it is easy to change. I am pretty nostalgic; I hang on to a lot of old stuff that I probably shouldn’t. I think as far as on the race track, during the race, I am one of the drivers that moves around the most as far as looking for a different line and stuff like that. I pride myself in finding what the car needs and where it needs to run. I think in the race car, you can get a bad habit or two but you just have to be conscious of it and pay attention to whether you are actually repeating that habit over and over. Sometimes I carry throttle down in the corner when I lift out of the gas and brake, sometimes I don’t actually lift out of the gas. That is a bad habit because it keeps the locker locked and the car won’t turn and roll down in the center of the corner. You catch yourself doing it sometimes.”

: HAVE YOU AND RICK HENDRICK FOLLOWED UP ON WHAT HIS THOUGHTS ON HOW YOU AND TONY, JR WORK TOGETHER?

DEJ: “Me and Tony, Jr. [crew chief Eury], have worked together for a long, long time. I think Rick likes being in the middle of it because it is fun. I don’t know of any driver on the race track that doesn’t get hot under the collar. I don’t do it every race. But, I have had some real good ones you all missed apparently. Last week wasn’t my best. I have had some pretty good ones. The Chase is real important to me. My determination has never been higher. Those things are hard to harness you know when you are trying to accomplish what you want to accomplish. You are leading the race all day and things go away and the car changes and there is no answer. That is all you want is an answer. But, I think it is because that I am so focused on this opportunity and I see how good the opportunity is, you know what I mean. So it is real easy to get frustrated when you are not realizing the potential every weekend, because I feel like we are a great team that should be in the thick of this. I don’t want to be sitting there five races in, 150 points out, going what the hell did we do wrong. We have everything we need, you know. You work hard.

“I guess, I can understand how my comments are offensive and definitely over the top at times, as you get older you try to do better at that because that is just how you are supposed to act. It is hard in the car. It is hard to remember. I look at those guys and I think they are great friends of mine, but they don’t know me well enough, maybe well enough, to talk them like that.

: DO YOU NEED TO ADJUST? HOW WOULD YOU DO IT?

DEJ: “I would love to be calmer under those types of situations, I would. And I was, when I first started, I was. And then I got called lackadaisical. I got compared to my father and his determination. I got questioned about if I quit partying so much and focused and this, that and the other. So now I am on the chip and want it more than anybody else and I am getting hell for getting too excited.

“Regardless of how I act, somebody is going to criticize me one way or another and find an angle. I don’t really want to change because I don’t want to lose my enthusiasm and I don’t want it to matter less, I want it to matter as much as it matters to me. If that means it is going to get me excited when things don’t go right, I just need to be better at controlling that. You know.”

: DO YOU LIKE TO HEAR THE THINGS RICK SAYS?

DEJ: "I think it is great. I welcome and want Rick’s input on exactly what he thinks about exactly what I am doing every minute of the day that I am on the job. And even some of the things I chose to do in my personal life. I want his opinion on it, because I trust him that much. I believe what he says. I wouldn’t argue with him. I just told him it would be hard to talk me off the ledge. I know he has talked a few drivers off of it before but, it is hard to get me calmed down.  Because I want them to get excited. I want to hear the same frustration from them. I want to know, I am sitting in the car, I want to know they are as diligent about it as I am as far as finding what happened. It makes you more angry and more angry when you hear ‘10-4’, or ‘things are going to be better’. I don’t want those stock answers; I want to know exactly what is going on. Tell me exactly what you are looking for and what you think it might be. Make up something, lie to me, I don’t care. That is what is going to make me feel better.”

: DO YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE IT DOWN A LITTLE AS RICK SAID, TO GIVE ENGINEERS A LITTLE MORE TO WORK WITH?

DEJ: “I don’t know. I mean, it is just hard to take it down a little. I am serious. I grew up in this sport and I have been raised around this and it is all I can do and it is all that matters to me. I am very serious about it. When I am hot on the radio, I am challenging everybody else to get to that level and get that serious and make it mean that much to you. When you are in the middle of the game, you have to check your feelings at the gate, you know. You really do. It can’t let things hurt your feelings because you are out there and this is everybody’s life. I take it pretty seriously. I understand what Rick is saying and I believe he is right that I do need to choose my words wisely and take it easy. Only probably because of the exposure it gets, not so much because of how it affects me and Tony, Jr.

“I can’t do any better at communicating….I am only going to be able to tell them and explain it to them the best way I can. I feel like I do that. I don’t think when I get [angry] I communicate worse, I think it is harder for them. I think at that point, Tony, Jr. isn’t listening to what I am saying and thinking how to fix the car. He is hearing me raise hell, and wanting to raise hell back, you know. It is just the way we are going to work everything. I don’t know, I am calmer with the other guy yes, because he ain’t my cousin. Me and Tony, Jr. have been together since we were tiny.”

“Since we were old enough to pay attention. We will get older and calmer, less in to each other as far as getting upset and angry with each other. I think we have. We were really immature back in the day, we were a lot worse. A lot more stupid about it when we were just starting out. Just stupid, we would just be spiteful back and forth.”

: DO YOU THINK NOT BEING FAMILY IS THE DIFFERENCE IN CHAD AND JIMMIE OR STEVIE AND JEFF, IS HOW YOU COMMUNCATE WITH TONY THAT MUCH DIFFERENT?

DEJ: “I think so, yes. They have a professional relationship strictly, they aren’t family. There is a lot of cheerleading and lifting each other up and things like that. Where me and Tony, Jr. are family. I expect him to be the best every weekend and he expects the same out of me. Probably those expectations are too high.  We get a little frustrated. We get frustrated less with each other these days and more so just with the situation and what is happening. There is a whole lot less eff you’s and that stuff going back and forth these days; it is more that I am mad at what is happening. What is the answer, help me. Do something, let’s figure something out. It is a lot less of us pointing fingers at each other. Which is good.”

: HAVE YOU EVER USED A SPORT PSYCOLOGIST?

DEJ: “No I haven’t, but I could probably teach him a thing or two.”

: DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT PEOPLE LISTEN TO YOUR RADIOS DURING THE RACE?

DEJ: “I don’t mind if ya’ll listen, but keep your opinions to yourself. All right? Because I am doing business out there and I am doing my job and that is how I do it. Ya’ll can listen all you want, but if you hear something that upsets you, don’t come crying to me or whoever said it on my radio. That is the way I feel about. I don’t want to restrict the fans access, I like the access. If I am a fan, that is what I would want.”  

“Ya’ll can tell, you can sit on the Internet all week and talk about (it all) you want. I don’t like answering questions about it and I am not going (to) work too damn hard about changing it because I kind of like how it is. It keeps me motivated and enthused during the race. It keeps me from getting relaxed and monotone during the race. I don’t want that to happen.”

: YOU DON’T WANT ANYTHING THAT SQUELCHES YOUR PASSION?

DEJ: “Yeah, right, exactly! I am very passionate about it, you know what I mean? I either have to be all or nothing. I am either in this or I ain’t. So every Sunday I get up and I decide to be in it. If things aren’t working right, I am not going to sit there. I try to be calm, but if I do that, I normally get criticized about not giving a damn.”

: IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU CAN’T WIN NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO IN THIS SPORT?

DEJ: “I suppose. It’s all right. I can deal.”

: DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE ANYTHING NOW THAT YOU HAVE GONE TO HENDRICK?

DEJ: “I need to be calmer. If I could (go) back and do New Hampshire over, I would have chosen my words more wisely - tried to sound more productive.”

It sounds like Jr. knows what he wants, yet is willing to work on it for him and the team. He’s been in the Top Ten all season and is still in the Chase with his #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Impala SS.