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.”

 

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

MORE: Snowball Derby attracts top NASCAR drivers

Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

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9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley’s 1981 victory at Dover

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NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.

Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.

On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.

Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.

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On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.

Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.

When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.

Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.

“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.

“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”

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Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.

“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”

The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.

“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”

Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.

MORE: Five laps that impacted Cup season

Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.

“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”

Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.

“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.