I’ve been pretty clear about the fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the reason that I became a NASCAR fan and subsequently a NASCAR blogger. I’ve chronicled what it meant to me to get to stand in on one of his press conferences and how the MTV documentary “True Life: I’m a a race car driver” is what piqued my interest in racing.
All posts tagged Dale Earnhardt26 Posts
Taylor Earnhardt, the late Dale Earnhardt’s youngest child, married Brandon Putnam this past weekend on Saturday, May 26th.
I interviewed Shana Mayfield, the wife of suspended NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield, in 2008 and I’m finally posting it today. We talked for little over an hour which is the longest interview I’ve ever done (what’s below isn’t even the entire conversation). For a couple reasons, which I won’t bore you with, I didn’t get it transcribed until this year.
On Saturday morning in Las Vegas the first and only thing I scheduled to do that day was interview Jennifer Jo Cobb. She was great and it was awesome to find out that her favorite word is “Fabulous.” Smart lady!
Repaved Daytona International Speedway = Racing INSANITY!
It was nerve-wracking to watch but still superfun!
Congratulations to Trevor Bayne and Wood Brothers Racing. What an amazing finish! I was flabbergasted at that finish, but NOT because of Trevor Bayne. I’m happy for the kid and all that, and for the Wood Brothers, but I’m going to be honest, I was more stoked for David Gilliland. When I saw Carl Edwards had hooked up with David I start screaming at the television. I really, really, really wanted David to get up there and contend for the win, but I was totally satisfied with his 3rd place finish. He’s 2nd in points right now, and I know that’s only after one race but it’s a really great start!
I know it’s not Festivus, but I’d like to air some grievances. Ok, there’s really only one and it’s about the post-race coverage from Fox Sports. They didn’t interview David Gilliland post-race, but they did interview David Ragan who finished 14th. I understand why they talked to Ragan ’cause he made a small mistake that ended up possibly costing him the race (I say possibly because there’s no way to know for sure that had he not been black flagged he would of won), BUT if you only have limited time wouldn’t you automatically go to the top-3?! Ugh.
Anyway, I understand that directing and coordinating a live broadcast is hard and for the most part they get it right but it’s still really annoying when they mess up.
I’m EXTRA excited for Phoenix. I’ve decided not to attend that race, I’m still really looking forward to watching what happens. I’m still going to Las Vegas for sure and I CANNOT wait to get there.
Back to Trevor Bayne really quick, he’ll be at Ghiradelli Square tomorrow (Tuesday, February 22) in San Francisco at 5:30pm to create the “Trevor Bayne Sundae, Sundae, Sundae” and then he’ll be in Los Angeles on Wednesday at a free fan event at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles (800 W. Olympic Blvd.) at noon.
I LOVE the expression on this girl’s face. It is priceless. I can just imagine what she’s thinking!
Kasey Kahne signs autographs for fans in the garage Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Michael Waltrip celebrates in victory lane with his No.15 crew after winning the 2011 NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart celebrates with his crew in victory lane after winning the Drive4COPD 300 Saturday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Danica Patrick talks to Dale Earnhardt Jr. about the No.7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in the Garage during practice at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Paisley entertains the crowd during the pre-race show before the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Not a very good command at all. But I love the Transformers race cars.
Honorary Grand Marshals Michael Bay, Josh Duhamel and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley give the command to start the engines for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Brandon Goodman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The Baltimore Raven’s Ray Rice visits the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage and takes a look in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Motorsports Images and Archives)
National Anthem singer Patty Loveless shows her support for Drive4COPD Saturday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Martina McBride sings the National Anthem before the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: ISC Archives/Getty Images)
Dierks Bentley performs during the Daytona 500 pre-race show Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Great moment–I held up 3 fingers too even though I wasn’t there!
The fans salute Dale Earnhardt on lap 3 by holding up three fingers during the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway at Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Carl Edwards and David Ragan congratulate Trevor Bayne in victory lane after the 53rd Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
How excited are you that tomorrow is the Budweiser Shootout? I, for one, am thrilled. The season is starting again and for this website, and me personally, a lot more stories to share with you guys. I’m planning on road tripping it to Phoenix and Las Vegas later on this month. I’m really looking forward to getting back to the one place in the world that I know ALWAYS makes me happy, NASCAR races of course.
I’m also super excited to crown the first ever Hottest Driver Tournament winner on Sunday. It’s between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. Be sure to cast your vote now because voting ends Saturday night (at midnight).
In other news…
– The latest issue of ESPN The Magazine, on newsstands today, focuses on speed. Not Scott Speed, but just speed in general. It features articles on how to survive a crash, Hendrick Motorsports pit crew combine and spotlights Ricky Carmichael and Kevin Harvick.
– Jimmie Johnson will be the subject of a segment on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. The show airs Tuesday, Februay 15th. I’m looking forward to this as Real Sports is one of my FAVE shows.
– Rock band Good Charlotte is set to perform live before the start of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 27th. I’m totally looking forward to the performance and hopefully the band’s lead singer Joel Madden will bring his wife, Nicole Richie, along for support. Auto Club Speedway has special ticket packages available for starting at just $55. For an additional $25 you can have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Check out ‘Fabulous’ News for more news like this.
– Michael Waltrip has been doing a lot of media interviews in support of his new book, “In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything.”
While talking with the New York Times Michael revealed that he had never watched the 2001 Daytona 500, the race that he won and took the life of his team owner at the time, Dale Earnhardt. That is until this past July. Michael’s sister Connie tapes all of his races, and he came across the DVD — decorated with hearts and stars and the words “2001 Daytona 500 Winner!” that she’d written on it before Dale’s death had been announced — and watched it for the very first time, commercials and all.
Michael hadn’t been able to talk about the 2001 Daytona 500 for many years but in watching the entire race and then writing a book about that day in Daytona he was able to deal with his feels and find peace with everything that happened.
Andrew Giangola has a review of Michael’s book here, and I was told that Mikey’s book will debut at No. 11 on the New York Times’ Bestseller list when it makes it’s debut on February 20th, the same day as the 2011 Daytona 500.
– Yesterday was NASCAR Media Day down at Daytona International Speedway. The whole thing reminds me of a combination of the first day at school and picture day all wrapped up into one. The drivers spend what looks to me like all day walking around in their new firesuits answering all sorts of questions from the media from all over the place, taking new photos and shooting video spots. I really need to experience that whole thing for myself one day. Anyway, here are photos:
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano speaks to ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe during media day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya answers questions from the local media Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. during media day.
2010 Daytona 500 Champion Jamie McMurray poses during media day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson poses for photos Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. during media day. (Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne reads liners for MRN during media day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.(Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle talks with Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley from The Morning Drive on Sirius during media day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
On Wednesday my only goal for the day was to visit race shops. My first stop was JR Motorsports in Mooresville, NC. On my half-hour drive up to Mooresville I got to see the famous Lake Norman that numerous NASCAR drivers call home. It is absolutely gorgeous and now I totally understand why you’d want to find a house that sits next to it. I can extend the whole ‘gorgeous’ statement to the whole Charlotte area. It’s really flat, especially to someone like me who has grown up around mount this and mount that, but it’s also really, really green. I thought we had a lot of trees in Northern California but North Carolina has got a lock on ‘em too.
When I arrived at JR Motorsports, passing by Braun Racing in the process, I had another one of those “this is so coooooool” moments. I’m such a geek, but it was really fun to get to be there even though I knew I was only going into the JR Nation store to buy stuff and take a peek inside the actual race shop. I think, as a fan, it’s just as much fun to express your affinity for your favorite driver by buying a mug. I really did buy a JR Motorsports mug, and this cute Dale Jr. magnet notepad. There were a billion more things I could have purchased but I held back because I figured I might need some money to get back home and, ya know, to live.
Shower thoughts are those great ideas, concepts or, ya know, thoughts that you have when you’re taking a shower. Usually I’m thinking about things going on in my world, things I need to do or what I’m going to wear that day, etc. But sometimes I think about completely RANDOM things like this:
Isn’t it awkward for NASCAR driver Chad McCumbee (left) to be around Dale Earnhardt Jr.? I don’t know if, or how often, they see each other seeing as how Chad has been running in the Camping World Truck Series lately. I ask because Chad portrayed Dale Jr. in ESPN’s movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story” about the life of the late Dale Earnhardt. Dale’s family didn’t really like the movie, but besides the supposed inaccuracies in the movie it’s just weird to play someone who’s in your world, who does what you do for a living. At least I think it might be, right?
Chad, feel free to email me and let me know if it’s ever been weird for you.
It’s supercool news sharing time! I’ll be on a panel at Blogs with Balls 3 this year. Yay! This is awesome because I really love what Blogs with Balls is all about, the future of sports media. Plus I had a great time at BwB 2 in Las Vegas last year. It’s a big deal to me to be invited to be a speaker along with some great people, including Jay Busbee of the NASCAR blog “From The Marbles” over at Yahoo! Sports.
It’s going to be a good time and you should definitely come out. Blogs with Balls 3 is June 5th at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill. Tickets are limited so get yours NOW.
In other news…
– I wanted to put in my two cents about the new bookazine ESPN The Magazine published about Dale Earnhardt. In “Dale Earnhardt: The Legend Lives” I learned something new (well, new to me that is). Teresa Earnhardt started dating Dale when she was 19 and he was 27. That surprised me and it was just one piece of cool little details that could be found in the special collectible-worthy issue. It’ll be on sale through June, so be sure to pick up a copy.
– The book, “The Weekend Starts on Wednesday”, has a commercial featuring its author, Andrew Giangola. It’s hilarious (this is Andrew on helium) but all of the content is totally right on. There’s a ‘Fabulous’ mention in it, too.
So I’m finally wrapping up my posts about the Pepsi 500. It’s only a week overdue, but whatever.
Sunday was of course the Pepsi 500 and the morning was left open to do whatever made my little heart happy.
That weekend had been a celebration of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s birthday, which was October 10th, and Hendrick Motorsports 25th Anniversary. So it was only fitting that there was a Hendrick Motorsports hospitality tent, dubbed the “Party Zone,” where fans who bought tickets could eat, drink, be merry and ask Hendrick drivers, Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon, questions before the start of the day’s race.
Auto Club Speedway picked one fan that purchased one of the special Dale Jr. Birthday ticket packages to meet Dale himself on Sunday morning. The Speedway let me go along for the ride. Well, sorta. I met Stan (photographed at right), the lucky fan who was going to meet Dale and present him with special No. 88 cupcakes from Sprinkles. Stan was a very nice guy, who had been a fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and transferred his loyalty over to Dale Jr.
I rode with Stan over to the hospitality tent where we parted ways and I went inside to wait for the Q&A session to begin, and Stan went on to meet Dale just before he took the stage.
I don’t know how their meeting went down, but I’m sure it was cool.
It was while I was standing around watching some country music cover band perform that Erin, a very cool woman who reads this very blog, came up and introduced herself. It was soo nice of her to say hello. Even though I have traffic numbers from Google that tell me people come to my site everyday it still amazes me when I meet a real person who reads my blog and likes it.
I stuck around long enough to watch Dale take to the stage and watch people lose their minds over his very presence. He seemed kinda groggy. It was like 9am PST but back east that’s 6am, so I could understand why he might not be all bright and shiny.
After all that I went back over to the infield to go to the Drivers Meeting. I decided I was going to take pictures of drivers but that devolved into just standing outside of the meeting room and not taking pictures. At that point it just seemed like I’d taken pictures before and what was the point?
It was there that I met Shari and Steve (photographed at left), a couple from Phelan, California who were on the lookout for Tony Stewart. I let them know that Tony was in the driver’s meeting room already and that he had to come out on our side of the building (there are two exits) because his PR guy was standing nearby. They had a Home Depot jacket that they wanted to get Tony to sign, they’d gotten Greg Zipadelli to sign it the day before. As the drivers meeting let out they were able to get Tony’s autograph.
Shari & Steve were super nice people and I was totally glad I could help them out in a little way. It’s actually my favorite thing to do at a track, help people stalk their fave drivers. Ok, not “stalk” but get their autograph or a photo, especially kids. At Infineon this year there was a group of little boys who were waiting near the garage with their mother to get autographs. Security had moved them behind a fence but next to the bathrooms. I saw Kyle Busch sprint to the men’s room just behind them but the kids hadn’t noticed. So of course I took it upon myself to tell them Kyle was nearby and to be on the lookout when he left the bathroom. It’s fun to help people check something off their list, or finish a really cool story they’ll tell their friends later.
So if you see me at a track and you wanna know where so and so driver is I might be able to help you out!
If you guessed England you’re correct! I know, how random right? Well it was all a part of a yearly event called Festival of Speed held this weekend at Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, England.
The three day event, hosted by none other than an actual Earl, the Earl of March to be exact, celebrates all forms of racing. This year the festival featured a 1.16-mile hill-climbing competition for all classes and types of race cars and motorcycles, plus a 2.5-kilometer course for historic rally cars.
Yesterday I finally finished watching ESPN Ultimate NASCAR (Vol. 1): The Explosion – NASCAR’s Rise. This documentary takes you through the basic history of NASCAR and evolution over the years. I loved it for it’s cinematography, the imagery was absolutely beautiful, and ability to seamlessly merge the past with present.
The Explosion gives you the story up ’til now and covers the bigger stories like Jeff Gordon’s entrance into the sport and Dale Earnhardt’s death. I dare you to not choke up or get emotional when Darrell Waltrip talks about the days after that horrible accident. I couldn’t get through it without crying.
The interviews are all first rate, not to mention the variety of interview subjects. Amongst the usual lineup of drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin there were interesting conversations with Virginia Senator Jim Webb and bestselling author Tom Wolfe.
I highly recommend this DVD, and in the coming days I’ll be posting more reviews of the 4 other volumes in the ESPN Ultimate NASCAR series.
In other news…
– Did you know that Casey Mears has a second home in Scottsdale, Arizona? He bought it during the last off-season. Apparently the guy enjoys the dessert, Casey had this to say: “I’m a West Coast guy for sure. I was raised in Bakersfield, Calif., and spent a lot of down time with my family out on sand dunes. So, I naturally spend a lot of time in the Phoenix area taking my new sand car out on the dunes and just relaxing. The climate is perfect. I’m a flip-flops kind of guy, and this atmosphere just fits with me. I look forward to coming out here throughout the year. We’ve been out here all week since the Texas race. It’s like a second or third home for all of us.”
– Jamie McMurray became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Christy Futrell, this week.
– Scott Speed is using his passion for fashion to help raise awareness and money for a good cause that is close to his heart. Speed was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2003:
“This is a really cool opportunity for me to work on a project that ties one of my biggest passions — fashion — into motorsports, while also raising money for a great cause,” Speed said. “We’re hoping that through this project we can help create awareness and raise money for conditions such as ulcerative colitis, a disease that affects me personally.”
Muffin Man T-shirts went on sale Monday at muzeclothing.com. Half of the $40 will go to the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America. They’ll also be on sale this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, where the Muffin Man’s creator will autograph shirts at an TBD location Sunday from 12:15-12:30 p.m. MT.
Why the Muffin Man?
“Just random, mate,” Speed said.
Hello! Today has been insane let me tell ya, but the one awesome thing has been writing up this final post of my interview with Kyle Petty. Again, this interview was done last week during Kyle’s promotion of Prostate Cancer Awareness Week.
Me: In regards to Prostate Cancer Awareness, a lot of the readers of my website are women, what’s the most important thing that they can do for their husband or father to help them to go out there and see a doctor about this?
Petty: When had our STAY ON TRACK for Better Prostate Health booth set up at Michigan I was surprised at the amount of women who came through and would bring their husbands, or would say “My father had prostate cancer, it runs in our family and I’m trying to get my brothers to go and I really appreciate you guys speaking up on it.”
I think prostate cancer for so many people and especially guys, guys just are afraid to go be checked. And just like I said before, as my father uses the example of putting together a pit crew for his prostate cancer, I think so many guys will baby their car, change the oil, do everything they can with their car and their lawnmower, and their fishing boat or whatever it may be but they disregard their body.
So this the last post in the series dedicated to my interview with Dale Jarrett. It’s my last but probably my favorite because I got to ask him about that awesome Valentine’s Day of 1993 when he won his first Daytona 500 by beating Dale Earnhardt. Ned Jarrett, Dale’s father and a former two-time NASCAR champion, was the racing analyst on duty that day and coached his son home to victory.
It’s one of my all-time favorite NASCAR moments and if you don’t remember check out the video below and then read Dale’s response to my question. So sweet!
Normally a ticket promotion wouldn’t get my attention, but this latest one from Texas Motor Speedway made me do a double take:
Beginning at 9:03 a.m. CT Saturday (August 16), Texas Motor Speedway will kick off a special promotion for the upcoming Dickies 500 in which fans purchasing four prime front stretch tickets for the Nov. 2 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will receive a free “Dale & The Duke” collectible diecast stock car featuring American icons Dale Earnhardt and John Wayne.
Okay, so the diecast isn’t the thing that grabbed my attention it was the photos from the announcement of the promotion. The youngest daughter of Dale Earnhardt, and the only child of Teresa Earnhardt, was on hand for the unveiling of the “Dale & The Duke” car. Seeing Taylor Earnhardt’s name made me stop dead in my tracks. I can’t remember seeing a photo or hearing anything about her at all since last year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked for people to stop badmouthing his step-mother to protect his half-sister from having to hear those things about her mom.
I have to admit, I am intrigued and I’d like to know more about her, especially since you never hear boo about what she’s been up to since her father’s death. Not that we should know what’s going on in her life, I’m just curious like that. Actually to be totally honest I don’t want to know who she’s dating and all of that. I’m more curious about how she’s handled her father’s death and what her relationship is like with her siblings.
Yes, I’m nosey, deal with it.
(Left to right) President and CEO of Motorsports Authentics Mark Dyer, Hollywood star Buck Taylor, John Wayne’s daughter Marisa Wayne Ditteaux, Dale Earnhardt’s daughter Taylor Earnhardt and Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage took part in the unveiling of the “Dale and the Duke” program. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Meant to continue the legacies of both men, the “Dale and The Duke” program paired these legends together for the first time ever as part of the Legends Series that recently saw country music great Johnny Cash grace the hood of Earnhardt’s famous No. 3 Chevrolet. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
My favorite saying is “shut up!” It’s the thing I say when someone says or does something that amazes, stupefies or shocks me. It’s interesting, I’m saying, “shut up” when what I really want is for that person to continue and tell me more. Anyway, I was muttering “shut up!!!” to myself all day long as I came across various bits of news.
– There’s a report out that Teresa Earnhardt has been courting potential investors for Dale Earnhardt Inc. I knew this would throw Dale Earnhardt fans into a tizzy. From a financial standpoint I can understand why the would do this, but at the same time it’s kind of irritating because she wouldn’t give Dale Earnhardt Jr. half of his father’s company. DEI president Max Siegel is saying that they don’t have plans to sell the company at this time. Mmmhmmm.
– The Navy is set to announce (tomorrow) his plans to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and start his own team, taking over at Haas-CNC Racing. I guess this isn’t surprising, since people have been talking about it for a while now. It would be nice if one of these so-called rumors would actually not come true for once.
– Okay, so here’s the best piece of news today. Actor Brendan Fraser will be on hand for the Lifelock.com 400 at Chicagoland this weekend. He’ll be there to promote his upcoming movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (they’re really wringing the life out of that franchise, aren’t they?). Ryan Newman’s No. 12 Kodak Dodge Charger will carry a special paint scheme for the movie and Fraser will also serve as Grand Marshal for the race. He’ll be signing autographs, along with Ryan, at the No. 12 souvenir trailer at 1:30 p.m. CT. on Saturday.
Uhm, okay, I have sort of a small, tiny, wee crush on Mr. Fraser and I’m so disgustingly excited at the prospect of seeing him in person. Dare I ask a question at the press conference on Saturday? I’m not sure of what I should ask, it needs to be clever and smart and fabulous. If you can think of something let me know!
I must admit that I fell asleep watching the Best Buy 400 Benefiting Student Clubs for Autism Speaks. I accidentally took two Tylenol PMs instead of the regular Tylenol. Woopsie!
Anywhoo… I know I didn’t miss much. I was awake to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s chance at a win evaporate and that pretty much took the wind out of my sails. I woke up at the end managed to make out Kyle Bush’s figure in the winner’s circle. I rolled over and went back to sleep again.
So here’s something I’ve been thinking about, when I saw Kyle’s Combos paint scheme I was reminded of the conversation I had with Washington Post writer and author Liz Clarke. She felt that the constant changing of a guys paint scheme made it harder for people to care about the driver. I think she’s so right on and putting my feelings about Kyle aside I actually feel bad for him that he doesn’t have a consistent “brand” or “look” each weekend.
It’s annoying for his fans (all two of them) that they don’t have a particular color scheme to look for on the track. It’s frustrating. They need to pick a sponsor and stick with ‘em, M&M’s and that’s it! Or Hot Shot could sponsor him again, I think it’d be hilarious but so totally perfect for his persona.
Another reason this whole musical chairs o’ sponsors is bothersome to me is that there’s a guy like Travis Kvapil out there with all the talent in the world and some great runs to prove it and he’s got nothing on his car, while Kyle has been hawking a different product almost every week. Travis finished 11th on Sunday. Uhm, hello sponsors!?!!!
In other news…
– I’m proud to report that my older sister sat down and watched DALE: The Movie. This is huge because for the longest time my sister has been flabbergasted over my love for NASCAR. She loves me and supports me in everything that I’ve done but to her this whole NASCAR thing has been perplexing, although it’s not out of the ordinary for me. My sister and I have always been very different in terms of our interests. She was a star athlete in high school and college, while I was just an awesome spectator. She was the homecoming queen and I was not. She’s into R&B and hip hop and I’m into alternative and indie rock music.
Anyway, my point is that my sister watched the movie about Dale Earnhardt and now has a much better understanding of and appreciation for racing. It made my day to hear that she wanted to understand what I have been putting so much of my energy into for sometime now. So thank you, Mika! I love you.
Denny Hamlin celebrates his second victory and fifth top-10 finish in seven races at Dover International Speedway. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
A 10-car crash brought out the first caution of the Best Buy 400 Benefiting Student Clubs for Autism Speaks NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway. The race red-flagged for 16 minutes and 13 seconds to clean up the track. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
:: This is part four in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::
Me: I know you have that history with Dale Earnhardt, and I know covering his death must have been horrible. I know in the book you wrote that his death changed you in a lot of ways, so how did it change you exactly? And how did it change the way you cover the sport? Did it change the way you cover the sport?
Liz: Oh, that’s hard. Let me first say, I’m certainly I’m not remotely unique. I think I speak for honestly millions of people when I say his death changed me and affected me. I don’t at all pretend to say my loss or my grief was any greater than other fans or certainly his own crew and own family. But, ya know, there was no personality quite like him and the circumstance, just the notion that he could have been killed was impossible to accept. To your question itself, I just was inconsolably sad and it wasn’t just when I went to the race track that I felt the loss. I just felt like the most charismatic, complex, fun, entertaining person had been taken away. Whether I covered a race and he spoke to me or not or he made some joke aside, or if I just saw him from across the garage, I mean, everybody watched that black car, everybody watched him when he got in the car. Ya know and he made you feel differently about yourself, he really did and I think every driver would tell you that. I mean he’d aggravate you or compliment you. I think sometimes when he ran you really hard that was his way of complimenting you.
There was one time they had built the track in Dallas, that awful first year of that race, and I was working for the Dallas Morning News and I was taking one of our metro columnists for a walk around the garage. He had never been to a race and I was trying to explain, ya know here’s the order that they park the cars and here’s what this means, be really careful ‘cause they’ll come in with their engines off and you won’t hear ‘em, ya know a lot of basics when you’re sort of showing somebody around. Earnhardt came around the corner in the car; he was in a practice session so they were in and out and in and out. And he whipped his car, hand to God, about two inches from my foot. Swung it right toward me, the guy next to me almost fainted. And I said, “Oh, he’s just saying hello.” And he was grinning and that was totally him. I’m not sure I talked to Dale that day but that’s the kind of stuff he would do. He’d do stuff like that to Schrader, Mark Martin. It was just his little way. It’s an aside, but the notion that he was gone; it was just a hole of blackness. This profound hole, it was like the sun was gone. It was just something so integral to way you saw the world was gone. I still feel that way, I still feel that way. I know Rusty Wallace feels that way, we’ve talked about it. It’s not something people talk about in racing too much. But I don’t think seven years has lessened it at all.
Me: Why do you think NASCAR was so slow, I guess is the word, to put in those mandatory safety features until after Dale Earnhardt’s death, especially the HANS device, especially after all of those incidents?
Liz: That’s really a shameful chapter in NASCAR’s history, and of course it’s easy to say in hindsight. From the day NASCAR started it was very clear that drivers were independent contractors. And what NASCAR meant by that is if you’re hurt we don’t owe you disability. You don’t work for us; you’re your own boss. And you can come play in our sport but we’re not responsible for you, we have no liability for you and it was a really smart posture to take. And they really, I think for business reasons, wanted to hold on to that as long as they could. Therefore, ya know, with every rule you make about how you stay safe, if something goes wrong with that then you’re technically liable. I mean, on the HANS device I can sort of empathize with NASCAR’s choice to not make that mandatory because there were several drivers who felt very, very strongly that it would keep them from being able to get out of a burning car. And the prospect of being trapped in a burning car understandably is the worst scenario for a race car driver and the fuel cell solved a lot of that. But still drivers would say flat out if it’s a choice of breaking my neck and burning up I want to break my neck. There were drivers who didn’t want to do it and made clear they wouldn’t want to do it. Earnhardt would have been chief among them. He wouldn’t even wear a closed face helmet, again not because he was being a tough guy, but he really thought peripheral vision was his best safety device. And he felt a closed-face helmet limited his peripheral vision. So he had very personal, very strongly felt views about his safety and that that’s what kept him safe. A lot of drivers felt the HANS device was not a deal they wanted.
There’s also a tradition in all forms of racing that every fatal accident is a freak accident. That there’s nothing to be learned from it in terms of the race car or the track or the rules of the sport, whether that’s racing back to the caution. It doesn’t really warrant further study because it was a freak deal; it’s not going to happen again. It was only because this part on the car failed, or the weird convergence of events, it’s just a way of rationalizing it away and therefore no drivers or driver’s family really have to wonder “is this safe?” It’s sort of a way of coping and a way of doing business and those were really entrenched that you don’t make wholesale changes after one guy dies and then another guy dies and then Earnhardt was the fourth in 11 months, I’m pretty sure.
Me: So do you think the whole idea of a drivers association, kind of like the NBA has and the NFL has, could ever happen in NASCAR?
Liz: I don’t think it will ever happen in NASCAR and I regret that. I think there’s a lot of use for the drivers on certain occasions speaking as one, having a representative. And they’ll tell you that that happens now that it’s ad hoc. They go in and speak to Mike Helton and Robin on matters of concern and I know that does happen. But I just like level playing fields and in NASCAR for all the bravery the drivers have, they’re not represented in the decision making, to me, to the extent they should be. I would love to see a drivers association with somebody like Jeff Burton be the head of it for the first couple years. He’s just so well spoken and reasoned and really smart about what’s in NASCAR’s interest, what’s in the driver’s interest, he’s not emotional. And I know there are other guys, I mean, Mark Martin would be perfect for that. It’s really only rarely have drivers sought that. It’s been a long time, it’s been seven years since I’ve even heard it discussed.
:: This is part three in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::
Me: Anyway, is it getting harder to get interviews with the drivers, to get time with them now that there’s so much attention?
Liz: Sure, yea, and I feel like everybody would tell you that.
Me: So how do you do it? Is it a matter of just being persistent and contacting the PR people?
Liz: Well, I can’t give you the date but over the last couple of years NASCAR kind of, I think, tried to preempt a lot of the requests for one-on-one interviews by organizing group sessions for everybody in the top 10. It’s probably a deal they worked out with the drivers, who I’m sure were getting tired of a million interview requests. So they convinced the drivers, if you’re in the top ten you must be available to the media every race for a twenty minute window, or whatever it is. And in a way I think that makes a lot of sense. It does kind of let them fulfill their obligation and probably takes care of 80% of the reporters needs.
So that I can see the wisdom of and then if you’re working on something special and you need a one-on-one these days you go to the PR person and sort of state your case. My impression is the decisions are made on how significant is your publication to them. I mean, I worked at USA Today and covered racing. People were very eager to talk to me at USA Today. I’ve worked at papers of all different sizes and I benefited even when I worked at the Charlotte Observer. I mean that’s a huge advantage in racing because that’s the paper of record, really. So, as a reporter I don’t like the reality that the decisions probably are based on your circulation size or influence or your hometown. I’m sure each driver is attentive to the paper in their market. That all makes sense, I have no gripe with that, but I guess the reality is simply that yes, there’s a crush of media covering this sport: print, way more broadcast than before and drivers are really tapped thin.
The days of riding to a race track in a pickup truck with Earnhardt are gone, I’m afraid. Every so often I’m sure somebody can pull that off and I still think it’s the stick and ball sport, or big league sport where that is possible. It is probably just a matter of persistence and making a case that you’re working on a story that really requires this kind of one-on-one time or this kind of access. I still feel they treat the request as fairly as any sport, if not more fairly, but it’s just tough.
Me: So in terms of that, what is the biggest change you’ve seen or changes that you’ve seen in how NASCAR is reported in the media over the years? I know it’s getting bigger, but is it getting better?
Liz: Well, that’s a really hard question and a really good question. I guess this, well it certainly isn’t really unique to NASCAR but it really strikes me, the whole notion of the 24 news cycle. So that is ESPN.com, NASCAR.com, the whole blogosphere, individual paper’s websites. But if say, Dale Jr.’s year of deciding whether to leave DEI or not, if that had happened ten years ago, ya know, there would have been one tenth the coverage or even a smaller percentage because you’d only write it once a day, not once every two hours. The poor guy and I think he was embarrassed. He was worried that fans were getting sick of him and sick of this whole issue, and he spoke about that, and I empathize. Every incremental twitch that Max Siegel made was on NASCAR.com or ESPN.com, and then it was responded to, and then it’s just this mountain of coverage. In a story like that I’m not sure if it’s better because it’s so redundant and incremental. But then again there’s an appetite for it. Websites are really good about responding to what fans care about, as are bloggers. So their barometer in a lot of way is more true than newspapers, they’re very connected to what people are talking about and arguing about and caring about. But it’s just the constant, constant unending stuff.
:: This is part two in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::
Me: You talked about Jeff Gordon and his entrance into NASCAR and how that kind of signaled the entrance of, ya know, guys who grew up racing and learned about the whole corporate aspect of it and knew how to answer questions and all of those kinds of things. I’ve always thought of Jeff Gordon as the face of NASCAR, at least to the outside world, or to people who never NASCAR ever or haven’t in their lives. He usually the most recognizable person, I mean, obviously Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty are big too but Jeff Gordon kind of like in the 90′s was like, the guy. Do you think that’s changing as far as, ya know, other people coming through? Like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so popular and Carl Edwards is like, camera ready.
Liz: Yeah, he is, isn’t he?
Me: And he’s so good at it. It seems like its part of his personality actually.
Liz: Yeah, and it seems very natural and authentic. Not like he went to some school to learn how to talk. I guess there are a few more characters that people associate with NASCAR. And I think, I totally agree with you regarding Jeff being the face of NASCAR in the 90′s. Ya know, it really helped too because his car was so special. Ya know most of those cars then were one solid color. Ya know they were a color and then a number. And he had the rainbow. I mean, it’s different now but I mean kids loved that. It was like the rainbow car with all the colors and it just looked so sparkly. And he was so sparkly.
I live in D.C. which is hardly a hotbed of NASCAR but this Halloween I had two little Tony Stewarts and one Lightning McQueen come to my door. They were in the like little miniature Home Depot suits and it was really adorable. Now, Joe Gibbs of course owns that car so a lot of Washingtonians follow Joe Gibbs, but I do think Tony in that orange car that’s kind of become iconic.
I’m really not at all a fan of Dale Jr. having this two car sponsorship and two car look. Not because I’m opposed to either sponsor or either look. But I just think in NASCAR it’s such an extension of the driver’s personality is his car. And when you keep switching it, it just muddles the message. I don’t think it does either sponsor a service. Who was it? It was Kyle Busch at California he was back to Interstate; he wasn’t the M&M’s car. It was annoying to me and I love Interstate, don’t get me wrong, but for little kids or new fans part of the way you come to know a driver is the black number 3, the rainbow colored 24 or the orange number 20. I mean I understand the business reasons for it, it’s too expensive, you need multiple companies to pay the freight, but I really think people are missing how serious this is to keep switching the uniform of the guy. It’s basically his uniform.
Me: Yea, I know what you mean. ‘Cause it’s the same thing with Clint Bowyer, he’s doing DirecTV and Jack Daniels. And then he has that switch happening at some point. Greg Biffle has a switch happening. It’s hard to remember which car they’re in, “Oh, wait, that’s so and so.”
Liz: And by extension it’s hard to care. I mean, it sounds silly but it’s just hard to care because that’s not my guy. You’re just more conscious of oh, he’s selling this product this week. You sort of don’t believe, like, “does he really like that product?” It’s not like you get that detailed in your thinking but the guy should look the same. You cheer for the car because you know who’s inside. I love that M&M’s car. I don’t like Kyle Busch, I’ll tell you that, but I love the M&M’s car. It should be in the race all the time.
Me: That’s one point where we totally agree. I don’t like Kyle Busch either. Well two points actually, I totally agree on both of those points.
That’s another thing that’s getting hard. Sometimes at the beginning of every season I have to go through the roster and say “Ok, this guy is with this team now and he’s driving this car, and he’s in these colors now so look for that if you’re looking for him.”
Liz: It’s hard enough as it is, with the regular changes.
Me: It’s one thing if the guy changes sponsors but then he’s changing his entire team, changing his number. I’m like “Oh wait, that’s not David Gilliland anymore, that’s Kyle Busch, so yea, don’t cheer anymore. If you see the M&M’s car just walk on by.”