All posts tagged Dale Earnhardt

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liz clarke interview: one helluva ride

One Helluva Ride by Liz ClarkeA couple months ago I was given the opportunity to read Washington Post writer Liz Clarke’s new book about NASCAR entitled “One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation.” I mentioned once before, when I was close to finishing the book, how emotional it made me feel. If you’re new to NASCAR or have been a fan for all of your life you should definitely pick up One Helluva Ride. It gives great insight, from one reporter’s unique perspective, on how NASCAR began and evolved over the years.

Luckily for me I was also given the opportunity to speak with Liz about the book and ask her some questions. I’m posting the results of our conversation here and in subsequent posts. Enjoy!

:: This is part one in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::

Me: Why did you want to write the book and how did it come about?

Liz: I think that my experience was different than a lot of peoples in that I was approached by an editor, a book editor who was familiar with my work at the Post and asked if I had ever thought about writing a book.  She suggested one on gymnastics or tennis, which I was also covering at the time. She emailed and I said I’d love to write a book, I’ve never written a book but if I wrote one I really would feel more comfortable writing one about NASCAR. That’s the sport I know the best and would probably have the most to say and I thought she might go running, ya know fleeing and hanging up, I didn’t know how this would go over but she was open minded. She said “Well I’ll listen to that.” So that forced me to give some discipline to what was the book that I had in mind, I mean what is it that I wanted to say about NASCAR. Ya know and put that in written form, and do a proposal. Ya know one option would have been to focus on one driver’s story. Or to focus on a season in the life of the sport and I really wasn’t drawn to do either one.

I looked at this as the only book that I would ever write in my lifetime and I wanted sort of to say everything, just like say everything that I knew that I felt most strongly about and that there never was room for in a newspaper story or you edit your own self and you think “Well that’s not appropriate for a newspaper story, nobody really cares what I think, or nobody really cares about this funny conversation I had with so and so.” It’s invariably when you talk to people and they know you cover sports the questions they ask you are often the stories you never write, like “What is that person really like?” “What is Bill Elliott like?” or “What is Dale Earnhardt really like?” It’s odd how you never write those stories.

Also I was acutely aware of how rapidly the sport was growing and changing in obvious ways, the closing of several small tracks, the move west to new markets but also the change in the basic driver. The drivers were getting younger, they were from all over the country, they had a certain polish, ya know PR training was new and ya know some of this is easy to admire NASCAR for and really applaud their growth. Some of it made me sad. And so I just felt this overwhelming need to capture all of this before it kind of went away, before it was lost forever. And my, I hope this is not to vague, but my idea was to start the book in 1992 with the first night race at Charlotte. It was the first night race I recall seeing in person when it just knocked my socks off. And then I talked to some smart people and they said “No, no, no, you have to start where the sport starts. You have to start in the dirt.” And I thought “Oh god that’s going to bore people, I won’t get them through that to get to the part that I know.” But I think that was right.

I tried to cover a ton of history really in a compressed way and ya know certainly the book doesn’t stand up as this definitive history of NASCAR. I mean, I skip tons of champions. I ignore big chunks of the sport’s history but it was my version of the sport’s history in that it was to me what was important. To me what was important was the individualism of the people who ran moonshine and then raced stock cars, and the power of Bill France Jr., the unbelievable power that he had, and the warmth of Richard Petty. To me those are the three themes of the first thirty years of stock car racing. So I took some liberties in focusing on that.

Me: Which I think is really great because when people ask you “why do you like NASCAR?” It’s hard to say, because everyone always says “isn’t it just them driving around in circles?” And I’m like, “It’s so much more than that.” It really is the personalities of the drivers that make it so interesting and figuring who your favorite is based off of personality traits or how they interact with the other drivers.

Liz: Yes, I totally agree. And so, I can certainly understand why people change the channel as fast as they can when they see it. If you can’ tell, if you don’t know who’s in the cars, it is just kind of cars going around. It’s hard to explain to people that the people stand for something and that fans feel this connection.

Me: That’s what I liked about Richard Petty’s introduction in your book, which I thought was really cool that you got The King to write an introduction to your book. That’s awesome.

Liz: Oh, I was honored. I was so honored. So you liked that?

Me: Yea, and I liked how he said that if you’ve never been to a NASCAR race you should just go and then, ya know, you watch the cars, pick one out that you’re going to focus on for the race. And then as you keep watching you’ll learn more and then you’ll figure out ok, maybe I want this other driver, and you’ll figure out which one you like and then it can grow into something more. You have to kind of just pick one and go with it. Which is really true, that’s what I did. I started out with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then I found out about all of these other drivers. I was like “Hey, Carl Edwards is really cool,” and I like the way he handles himself. You broaden your horizons as you keep watching. So, speaking of personalities, do you think that there is less personality in the drivers or different characters? Or do you think it’s about the same?

Liz: Based on what we can see as viewers, whether you’re watching on TV or listening on the scanners whatever, to me there’s definitely less personality. I’m not convinced the drivers themselves are less interesting, but there latitude for expressing themselves is so narrow now, they’re so scrutinized, ya know primarily by their sponsors who are paying the bills. They have to be the corporate pitchman all the time. Ya know, NASCAR probably gets and probably deserves some criticism for muzzling drivers’ personalities, with being very quick to fine and penalize for expressions. I mean, the one that just rankled me to death was when Dale Jr. was so excited after the win at Talladega. Ya know the “it don’t mean shit because my daddy won here ten times” or something. And ya know that use of “shit” wasn’t offensive. The vernacular [was used as a] huge compliment to his dad.

Me: Yea, that got me too. It was like, the moment he said it, it didn’t even phase me, you’re just so happy for him you’re not thinking about what he’s saying. Not the word he used at that particular moment.

Liz: Exactly. Yea, because the whole spirit was: I’m nothing compared to my dad. I mean what a great thing to say. He is something, he is emerging. But it was just a great tribute and a great moment and it was so dour and lame of NASCAR to react to that. I just wish the drivers words and behaviors after winning were not so scripted. I mean I understand corporate money makes the sport go and that these people are in the sport not only because their logo is seen but because their company logo is said by the driver. But I would find any driver who wins a race and gets out of the car and mentions his sponsor before he expresses one authentic emotion. I mean lets have the emotion and then, ya now, fulfill your contract. It’s a long way of saying I don’t think the drivers are boring personalities and you can’t find an interesting guy in the garage with an interesting opinion. I just think they’re almost in a straight jacket about how they behave, whether it’s all the, what are those Gillette drivers? What are they called? (Me: The Young Guns) Yea, Whether it’s all the Young Guns have to shave, ya know. Certainly decorum is called for but ya know and also the whole thing about being fearful of criticizing NASCAR or even questioning NASCAR. I was elated when Dale Jr. said on Sunday this track wasn’t ready to race; it was not a good move. Now that’s perceived as criticizing NASCAR. To me that’s a totally legitimate comment by a guy who was in the car and just got wiped out. I can’t believe more drivers didn’t say the same thing. I was thrilled that Denny Hamlin said it. To me it just bothered me to death that the broadcasters were not already discussing this on TV. Ya know, is this a good decision? You can talk about issues in the sport without slamming NASCAR.

Ya know but people, there’s this culture of you can’t question the Car of Tomorrow, you can’t question any, the length of the races, you can’t question the timing of the starts, ya know, whatever. The sport would be better, I mean Kyle Petty can do it, he can do it.

Me: Do you think there’s a fear amongst the drivers of retaliation from NASCAR? Is there a real, valid fear that if I say something they’re going to dock me points?

Liz: I think that that specter certainly was very palpable when I started covering this sport 15 years ago, 10 years ago. That was a real fear because there was so much more grey area in the application of the rule book. Getting through inspection was a real black box, I mean no one really knew quite what it took. And now I mean under Robin Pemberton and Gary Nelson before him, NASCAR has gotten quite specific and quite literal about what it takes to get through inspection, so there’s not that murkiness. It’s more above board; it’s more on the up and up. But that said, there’s still this vestige I think in the culture of, ya know, this is one man’s sport and he makes the rules and we can play by his rules or leave. That’s the way Bill France built it. It’s not so much the way they run it now but it has, that effect is still in the air.

not another “hello newman” headline

Ryan Newman does a burnout to celebrate his Daytona 500 victory (Photo Credit: Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR)What can I say about the Daytona 500? I’m serious… What can I say about it? I’m stoked that Ryan Newman won, I’m pretty sure that no one was expecting that. I know everyone is saying that Hendrick Motorsports got off to a bad start for the year, which is kinda true but 1.) It’s one race and 2.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th so that’s a win as far as I’m concerned. hehe.

I’m shocked that I’m about to say this, I really, truly am shocked, but Kurt Busch is kinda growing on me. I know! I can’t believe I just said that. I still don’t dig his little brother Kyle, but Kurt showed some real maturity on Sunday and I have to give him props for that. He could have tried to go after the glory for himself but he didn’t, he helped his teammate instead. I so totally respect that. This is freaking me out I have to stop talking about it.

In other news…

How great was it to have Fox back covering NASCAR? Getting to watch the race with Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds is seriously like coming home. No, it’s like coming home with a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte (with whip cream!) from Starbucks, lounging on the couch with a big blanket and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. It’s that good. :)

I’ve been reading the book “One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation” by Washington Post writer Liz Clarke. I’m this close to finishing and I have to say that this was the perfect time to read it. The Daytona 500 brings up memories of the past, NASCAR’s beginning and it’s heroes. “One Helluva Ride” is the perfect companion. I wanted to get out of the house yesterday, so I took the book with me to Starbucks. Once I got to the parts about Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001 I was crying — I’m sure the people around me were like “What’s her deal??” At any rate, I hope to get the chance to speak with Liz and ask her some questions. More on that later.

Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images for NASCAR

Actress Amy Smart was a guest of Kyle Busch, who ran the second Gatorade Duel 150 race at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images for NASCAR)

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

Teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch chat prior to the 50th running of the Daytona 500 (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

Carl Edwards scans other drivers on his radio during Gatorade Duel practice. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

tearjerker: dale the movie

I tivo’d CMT’s premiere of DALE: The Movie and I finally got to watch it this past weekend. As we all know I’m planning on spending all of next year following NASCAR around the country. Putting this project together is no easy feat and I think about it every single day. One way or another it’s going to happen, but every now and again I get discouraged.

I came away from watching DALE with this super peaceful feeling like anything was possible and that this was really going to happen for me. I felt good. Which I know isn’t the normal response you’d think you’d have after watching a documentary about the life of a NASCAR legend who died way too soon. It was truly touching and very honest. I think you get a good sense of Dale Earnhardt and the man that he was. I liked the fact that there were interviews with people from pretty much every part of his life. It was very emotional to me, and I loved how they framed the movie around his Daytona 500 win.

All in all it’s a great piece of filmmaking and I encourage anyone that hasn’t seen it yet to do so. I believe that you can take something useful away from anyone’s story. My mom always told me when I was in school to read everything even if, at first glance, it had nothing to do with me. So if I learned one thing from Dale Earnhardt’s story it was that you should never stop working towards your dreams. Never, ever stop. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get there than you think it should but you have to keep trying.

Oh and one more thing… after seeing this documentary my mind is still boggled over why Teresa Earnhardt couldn’t give up the 8 to Dale Jr. It’s just sad and just plain wrong. Forget about the money, it should be about family and that’s why he should get to keep the number. But whatever, what’s done is done and I’ll leave it at that. I know a number isn’t everything, and that Dale Jr. has a ton of talent to take him far.

bad talladega fans, bad, bad

I usually love the whole green, white, checkered, ending — now dubbed Overdrive — but this weekend it was pretty lame. It was very anti-climactic.

I’m not going to go into the whole Jeff Gordon-breaking-Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s-career-wins-record-fans-go-crazy debacle, except to say that I agree with tallglassofmilk in that if the Talladega fans can’t behave themselves ‘Dega should lose it’s second race. They should hand it over to Infineon, us Northern California NASCAR fans know not to throw things when we’re mad. We’d just make shirts that say things like “Anybody But Gordon” and call it day.

I’m still annoyed/upset about Casey Mears’ crash in the middle of the race. I thought he was going to make it this time and finally win one but alas it was not meant to be. He was so pissed when he jumped out of his car, seeing that emotion reminds you how much this means to these guys. It’s not just another day at the office. They go out there every race with the intention to win.

It was so very cool to see no-name drivers race upfront this weekend. Guys like Sterling Marlin, Kenny Wallace, David Ragan, Regan Smith, and David Stremme all led laps at Talladega. Congrats to them, I want to see more of that. Words cannot express how sick I am of seeing Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon winning these races.

The rest of my Sunday was filled with more racing coverage. After the NASCAR Nexel Cup race I caught the end of the IndyCar race in Kansas. Dan Wheldon was the winner and apparently there was some pit road debacle involving teammates Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan. Tony took a page from the Tony Stewart PR handbook and left the race track without commenting on the events of pit road (Danica hit his car on her way out of the pits which ultimately caused Tony to fall 8 laps down, finishing 15th for the day).

Now everyone’s attention will turn to the Indianapolis 500, the race is on May 27th but the media hype is already beginning. Oh yay, a whole month of talking about the same things over and over and over again.

In other news…

Ashley Force went up against John Force for the first time in her burgeoning Funny Car career. She beat her dad in the first round at Atlanta Dragway.

The marquee match of the day was in round one when Ashley Force beat her famous father, John, by a 4.779 to 5.783 margin in the first father-daughter Pro-level race in NHRA history.

“Today I’m a proud father,” John said. “I’ve dreamed of this day for a long time, and it makes me emotional to think it finally came true. She’s a great young driver and she’s probably gonna whip me a bunch, but I’m okay with it because she’s my baby.”

Ashley went on to win her second round match-up but lost in the semifinals to Mike Ashley. All in all still a great day for women in the NHRA, it won’t be long until she’s a Funny Car winner.


Jeff Gordon is saluted by Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


Fans throw beer cans onto the track as Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet, takes the Sunoco checkered flag to win the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 29, 2007 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, poses for a photo with his wife, model Ingrid Vandebosch, in victory lane after after Gordon won the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 29, 2007 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

junior says throw toilet paper, not beer cans

I just got off a teleconference call with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It wasn’t just me on the call (I wish), it was for all NASCAR media. Anyway, Dale basically said that there’s nothing for the fans to worry about when it comes to his contract negotiations with DEI.

In regards to the contract issues he said, “I’m pretty excited that things are going to be fine.” I think that his fans should be happy for him in whatever happens; because it’s obviously what he thinks is best for him, the team, and his family.

All I know is that I can’t wait for these negotiations to be over so we can all focus on other important things like… uhm… things that I can think of right now, but I know there’s other things people could be talking about.

Sort of like this…

Should Jeff Gordon surpass Dale Earnhardt in the career victories category this coming weekend at Talladega (they’re currently tied at 6th with 76 wins each), Junior says that people should throw toilet paper instead of beer cans, if they’re upset about Gordon moving ahead of his father in the record books. I should clarify that he’s not encouraging people to be mad about it, he’s just doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.

true story

I realized something tonight while I was trying to get to sleep. I figured out one of the reasons why I’m a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan.

I didn’t become a true NASCAR fan until the year of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death. His death was incredibly tragic and because of that fact it called attention to the sport of racing. A while after the accident occurred MTV aired the documentary “True Life: I’m a Race Car Driver” that featured Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

There were a lot of things that I learned by watching the documentary, just about the sport in general, the different driver personalities, but the most intriguing thing was to see the relationship between Dale Earnhardt and his son.

I think because of the fractured relationship I have with my own father, I have this obsession with watching the wonderful relationship other people have with their fathers. I think it is the sweetest thing in the world to see a father who truly cares about and believes in his children. I saw all of that in Dale Earnhardt.

And so after his death I wanted to watch Dale Jr. and see how he would respond to losing his father that he obviously respected and loved deeply.

Over the past 6 years (I still can’t believe it’s been that long) I’ve seen a young man grow, learn and mature. I will always be a fan of his because from all outward appearances he has grown into the man that I’m sure his father had always hoped he would be.