A Minor League Baseball team in Kannapolis, North Carolina, will end a nearly two-decade run of being named for NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt after this season.
The Kannapolis Intimidators, a Class-A team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox, announced Wednesday plans for a new name in 2020.
Named after Earnhardt’s famous moniker, the Intimidators era began when Earnhardt bought a stake in the team three months before his death in the 2001 Daytona 500 and continued years after Dale Earnhardt Inc. sold its share in the team.
Wednesday’s announcement by the team drew a response from Earnhardt’s daughter, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.
With new ownership in Temerity Capital and the team opening a new stadium in downtown Kannapolis next year, the decision was made to rebrand the South Atlantic League team.
A one-week campaign called “Branded New By You” running through Feb. 13 will allow fans and members of the community to submit suggestions for what direction the team should go with its new mascot.
Suggested names and feedback will be considered as the team works with brand identity firm Studio Simon to select a new name.
The name can’t be announced until after the upcoming season.
An Intimidators executive said other reasons for changing the name include being able to take advantage of the team’s brand as well as an audience whose interests are moving away from auto racing.
“We do recognize how much Dale means to this community,” Intimidators Assistant General Manager Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports. “Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator. We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that. So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”
Marcucci, who has been with the Intimidators for six months, is from South New Jersey and well aware of the Earnhardt name, having attended races at Pocono Raceway as a kid.
He said there’s been plenty of discussions about how to continue to honor the legacy of the Intimidator name.
“We’re about a block away from Dale Earnhardt Sr. Park in Kannapolis,” Marcucci said. “That was one of the first places that we took the gentleman (who) came to town to help us with the rebrand. So we definitely do understand the ties to racing as a whole in our community. That’s why (Cabarrus) County is branded ‘Where Racing Lives.'”
But Marcucci admitted that the demographics of the city and state are changing.
“I think millions of people are still Earnhardt fans,” Marcucci said. “But that’s his legacy. Not as much ours, you know? It’s just kind of creating a name that embraces the community for who they are now and who they’re going to be and who they’ve been. … You know it probably as well as I do that so many people are moving to this community from all over the country. It really is a melting pot of our entire country kind of migrating towards the Carolinas. I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years a lot of our fans have kind of been diversified away from NASCAR as well.
“But I think that’s the state of North Carolina as a whole.”
Marcucci allowed that if the majority of the name suggestions lean toward keeping it racing related, that’s the direction they could go.
“If 80 percent of submissions are racing, it gives us a pretty good idea of keeping it tied to racing,” he said. “If only two percent of the names that are submitted are racing, maybe we do go away from something like that.
“We can look into the city’s past and future for a different kind of name.”
Marcucci cautioned that the team likely wouldn’t go in the direction of others that have changed their names recently.
“I do not think we’re going to be the Rocket City Trash Pandas,” he said.
That’s the name that will be adopted by a team next year after it moves from Mobile to Madison, Alabama. It comes from its proximity to the NASA facility in nearby Huntsville and a nickname for the character Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. To each their own,” Marcucci said. “I personally love the super creative names that have come out over the past couple of years from Minor League Baseball. But I don’t know if that’s exactly what we want to go with.”