I wasn’t around when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was racing, so maybe his relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. was well-known and well-documented at the time. I don’t have a good feel for what was reported back then.
Most of what I know is from the question-and-answer sessions when Dale Jr. drops little nuggets about how things were. So when he discusses their relationship, my ears perk up every time.
Saturday was another example. Earnhardt was wrapping up his news conference at Pocono Raceway when Scott Walsh from the Scranton Times-Tribune asked about the driver’s memory of the 2000 race when Jeremy Mayfield did a bump-and-run on Dale Sr. to win.
Did Dale Jr. recall his dad saying anything about the incident in the aftermath?
“We didn’t talk (about it),” Dale Jr. said quickly, almost before the question was finished. “Me and my dad never talked racing. We just didn’t. I wouldn’t go up and ask him about that unless I wanted to upset him.
“Knowing my dad, it’s nothing I would have brought up in conversation on the rental car ride back to the airport.”
From an outsider’s perception, it seems like the Earnhardts would have been tighter than they really were — especially since both were involved in racing. But every time Dale Jr. is asked about advice or input from his father, there doesn’t seem to be much there.
“I was running Late Models for four years never seeing him,” Dale Jr. said of his developmental years. “I don’t think he ever saw me race Late Models in the mid-90s. Then we got in the Xfinity Series. I had two years of that and one year of Cup, and he was gone.”
And during those three years of NASCAR racing before his father’s death, Dale Jr. said, the two never really talked much about driving or advice relating to on-track performance.
“He was more worried about me keeping my head on straight, keeping focused, than how to get into the corner,” he said. “He was just making sure I wasn’t going to be an idiot outside the car. We talked about that all the time — getting up all time and not sleeping until noon and being on time for appearances and all that.”
I’ve known for awhile Earnhardt Jr. made it through the lower ranks on his own, with no financial help from his dad. But it’s sort of remarkable he ended up with a successful career without getting much of his dad’s on-track advice, either.