On Tuesday’s Dale Jr. Download on NBCSN (which airs at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesdays) as well as on Dirty Mo Radio, team owner Rick Hendrick told several stories of his relationship on and off the race track with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Two of the best stories Hendrick related in the nearly two-hour podcast that can be heard on Earnhardt’s Dirty Mo Radio showed sides of Dale Jr. that perhaps few people knew about.
First, there was the time around 2009 where Earnhardt, who had just started driving for Hendrick in 2008, told the boss to give him a pay cut, not a pay raise.
“I don’t remember what was going on in the sport but everybody was a little nervous and I called him one time and told him to take a million dollars off my salary if he needed to,” Earnhardt recalled.
The reason was simple: the economy had gotten bad and Earnhardt was concerned that some of the team members and other employees at Hendrick Motorsports might be laid off.
To say Hendrick was stunned at such a noble offer was an understatement: “(Earnhardt’s) the only driver that I’ve ever been associated with in all my years that said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a million dollars off my salary and give it to the guys in the shop. You don’t have to cut anybody’s pay. I’ll give up a million dollars.
“I was shocked. That just shows you the character that he has and his relationship with people.”
There was also a great story told by both Earnhardt and Hendrick that talked about, of all things, side skirts on a race car – and why it was so important to Earnhardt for them to look good before he signed his first contract to drive for Hendrick.
“When I went to meet with (Hendrick), my heart was to drive for Rick,” Earnhardt said. “HMS for all these years had been this perfect opportunity and best team and they just had won and won and won. … I had been racing for family for all these years and it’s such a security blanket, and I thought I’d have that same security blanket if I drove for Rick.”
Then it came time for Hendrick to pass a contract offer to Earnhardt.
“He slid that paper across the table and I said uh-uh, I don’t want to see that,” Earnhardt laughed.
To which Hendrick replied, “So I told him not to look at it. Everybody was really nervous and we really wanted him to drive for us. I had labored over this contract for weeks before I showed it to him. I said, ‘Here, Dale,’ here’s what we can do for you.’ He said, ‘I don’t care about that.’ I said, ‘Okay, give it to me back and don’t look at it.
“I thought we were all done when Dale said ‘I have a couple things I want. I’m thinking, oh here we go, this is going to be big, real big.’ He said ‘I want the (side) skirts to be painted the same color as the car.’ I said, ‘What?’ And then he wanted the helicopter to (go to) Martinsville and Darlington.’ He didn’t care about the money.”
Earnhardt interjected, saying, “I told (Hendrick), ‘You and (sister) Kelley sort that out.’ I already had more money than I knew what to do with. Money didn’t motivate me and make me happy. What made me happy was how my car looked. If the side skirts aren’t painted, it ruins the entire car and I drive the car and I want the damn thing to look good.’”