Dale Earnhardt Jr. on joining NBC Sports: ‘First real job I’ve had in 20 years is going to be an adventure’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be part of 20 Cup Series race broadcasts on NBC Sports Group next season, but NASCAR might not be the only place you see him.

An avid cyclist who routinely rides dozens of miles weekly, Earnhardt could be a part of Tour de France coverage in the future.

“We’ve talked football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company,” Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports, said in a Monday afternoon call introducing the 14-time most popular driver as a member of the network’s team starting Jan. 1. “I could see him being involved if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say, ‘Go off and do a feature on football.’ We’ll say, ‘Hey, does this make sense to get you involved?’ Be it the Super Bowl, the Olympics.

“There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. It could be an interesting match for Dale. There’s nothing locked in stone. It’s all about opportunity and the breadth of what we can do as a company, and I think that’s the most important part of what we’ve established in this partnership.”

Earnhardt pointed to his longtime allegiance to the Washington Redskins as a potential avenue for venturing outside NASCAR, but also said he primarily is focused on getting acclimated to his new role.

“This is the very beginning of this partnership,” said Earnhardt, who is retiring from NASCAR after 18 seasons on its full-time circuit. “I’m going to follow Sam’s lead on what I need to do to become as prepared as I can to do the job he wants me to do. I’ll make myself available as much as possible to give me the tools to learn quickly in this process as I gain confidence in myself and continue to improve, grow, learn and understand how this business works.

“As much as I’ve been around this sport, a lot of this is foreign. I’ve always just drove race cars. This is probably the first real job I’ve had in 20 years. This is going to be an exciting adventure. I’ll lean on Sam. I’m going to depend on him to point me in the right direction. Any experience outside NASCAR will allow me to learn and build my resume and gain continued confidence. I’m up to any challenge. I’m surrounded with great folks to give me the tools to do the job right.”

The versatility offered by signing with NBCUniversal, which allows access to a vast media portfolio that includes movies, TV and podcasts, was a major plus for Earnhardt, who has a production company (Hammerhead Entertainment) and a podcast network (Dirty Mo Radio).

“He’s a race car driver, a team owner, iconic racing figure but also as popular off the track and has tremendous crossover appeal across all forms of media,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “NBCUniversal, we have great assets and includes sports, film, television. All of which are part of our ability to attract someone of Dale’s expertise in sports and interests in other forms of media to get him to join our team.”

Earnhardt said he began exploring TV opportunities nearly three months ago, shortly after announcing his impending retirement. He wrapped up the deal in the past few days after several weeks of negotiations.

The third-generation star grew up admiring broadcasters such as Barney Hall, Ken Squier and Benny Parsons, noting that “I’ve always been drawn to their jobs and how they carried themselves.

“It is a dream come true,” Earnhardt said. “This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career. That was one of the exciting things about the conversations I had with NBC. They understand incorporating Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead production company into a lot of things we do together.

“That gives an opportunity to grow. That was obviously an exciting part of the puzzle through this whole thing.”

Flood said Earnhardt’s passion for NASCAR and its history makes him a unique talent.

“He looks at it in a different way,” Flood said. “The conversations we’ve had is about how to grow NASCAR, expose new fans and make his passion for the sport come through to the fans. It’s fun to hear how curious he is about television, about the job and how can he step in and do a great job from Day One.

“We’ve talked about taking him out to one of the Sunday Night Football games and following Cris Collinsworth and seeing how the No. 1 show on TV gets made. Talked about going to the truck for a NASCAR Xfinity race to see the craziness of a TV truck so he understands how it works. And make sure he’s ready to roll with a team he already knows.”

Earnhardt will be joining a broadcast team that includes Steve Letarte, his crew chief from 2011-14, and longtime mentor Dale Jarrett.

“Being around people like that will allow me to be a lot more comfortable and lot less shy than in the past,” he said. “That was a key element that made me excited about this partnership.

“Everywhere I’ve had success before, I always had a great friendship with the people I worked with, a very comfortable environment with people around. That influenced me quite a bit knowing I had the opportunity to work with people I know quite well. Sam was incredibly honest. What I’ve learned about how candid, honest, up front he is, I like that directness. He’ll be a great person to be led by and to lean on. Those personal connections were important for me and NBC certainly lays a lot of opportunity on the table. They just showed a lot of encouragement and excitement about that opportunity to work together. It seemed a very, very good fit for me.”

While he missed the second half of the 2016 season recovering from a concussion, Earnhardt worked with the NBC booth of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Letarte during races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway. The experience eased the way to go into broadcasting.

“The feeling in the booth, you think you have an idea what that’s like, but I had no idea how enjoyable that was until I did it,” he said. “I knew immediately in those moments going through my injury and going through the booth with Steve and Jeff that I definitely wanted to pursue this as an opportunity.”