He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.
“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.
“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”
Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.
“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.
“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.
“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”
Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.
Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up on why he hid his smoking and how he quit
For the first 15 years or so of his high-profile NASCAR career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a secret that he kept from fans, media and sponsors.
But most importantly he kept it from his father.
There had been times that Dale Earnhardt had entered his son’s house unannounced and seen the ashtrays full of cigarette butts.
And while his mother, uncle and grandparents also indulged in smoking, Earnhardt’s seven-time champion father didn’t, nor did he approve of it.
“When I was a kid, everyone seemed to be smoking except for dad for whatever reason. He just never did,” Earnhardt Jr. told NBCSports.com in a phone interview Tuesday morning during a round of media appearances in which he spoke about his former habit in-depth publicly for the first time. “He knew I did, and I never, ever would have let him see me holding a cigarette. He hated it. We never had a conversation about it. He might have said a few times, ‘You need to effing quit that.’ Or something like that real short.
“I know that was something that extremely disappointed him.”
Ultimately, it was another family member who helped Earnhardt Jr. snap the habit about eight years ago.
Earnhardt’s wife, Amy, put up with his smoking the first few months after they began dating.
“I was trying to quit and tried a couple of times and failed, and it was so disappointing for her,” he said. “Eventually she said to me, ‘Look man, are you really going to get this done? Are you really going to eventually quit?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if I can.’ And she goes well, ‘Honestly, that could be a dealbreaker for me.’ And I said, ‘Damn, really?’
“She said, ‘Yeah, if you’re not sure, and this is something that is going to be part of our relationship going forward, I just don’t know. So that was a tough conversation that had to be had, and I finally figured out how to get it out of my system when I truly wanted to quit. You have to have that conviction to do it, but it was really, really hard.”
“I figured it wasn’t a super-duper secret that I was a smoker, but maybe it might be worth exposing that little lie and secret to see if I can convince other people to quit because honestly, once I decided to quit, I didn’t realize all the things that smoking was affecting in my life,” he said. “And I was super insecure about it.
“Obviously I didn’t want anybody to know about it, but I worried about whether my car smelled, my clothes smelled, my breath smelled, and then I worried about my long-term health. I had a doctor that’s pretty straightforward, and he’s hammering on me all the time that, ‘Like, dude, you’ve got to quit.’ I seemed to get a lot of sore throats and a lot of colds more frequently than other people that weren’t smokers.
In addition to feeling much healthier, Earnhardt said it changed him for the better socially as well.
“I realized how much control (smoking) had over me,” said the NASCAR on NBC analyst, who also has been open about the impact Amy and Steve Letarte had on him getting out more. “The decisions I made every day were based around smoking. It sort of encouraged that hermit mentality that I had before me and Amy met. Where I wouldn’t go anywhere, do anything. You wouldn’t hardly see me leave the bus on a race weekend. I would shorten visits with family on holidays and just avoid activity.
“I’d just sit in the house and play video games because I could smoke. Then I realized once I got done how much that was dictating my day and predicting the choices I made every day. It was all based around my habit of smoking, and that’s pretty stupid, but it’s true.”
Earnhardt said he picked up smoking in his early 20s, just before he began running in the Xfinity Series, while being around friends who did it.
“It wasn’t popular, cool or trendy,” he said. “I wasn’t so much worried about sponsors as just worried about disappointing people. I just tried not to really push it in front of anyone’s face. I wouldn’t walk up and down pit road holding a cigarette. I just thought that would be a mess.
“People would be like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Get your head on straight. You’re supposed to be this race car driver,’ and I already had people questioning my focus and my determination. If I’m walking around smoking a cigarette on Saturday between practices, I’m sure that was going to just feed into that.”
NASCAR commercials that deserve to be in Hall of Fame
I’ll be your guide as you take a tour of the museum’s newest wing – the Michael Waltrip “I’m at the wrong track” Advertising Hall of Excellence.*
Yes, it’s a mouth-full, but here in NASCAR we’re no stranger to saying a lot in Victory Lane to pay the bills.
And that’s what this exhibit is dedicated to – excellent examples of NASCAR and its teams paying the bills that also entertained loyal fans during breaks in the TV action.
Now, enjoy your trip through this loving look at some of NASCAR’s best commercial campaigns., and remember to watch the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
*This isn’t real, but it should be.
Aside from last season’s NASCAR Fantasy commercial, there’s a severe lack of ad campaigns these days that feature multiple drivers from separate teams and showcase their personalities all in one place. But back in the 2000s the Gillette Young Guns campaign was the standard-bearer for such a concept. Oh, and John Cena was in one.
How Bad Have You Got It?
How do you advertise NASCAR in an entertaining way without including a single shot of a stock car, a track or a NASCAR driver? Via the heightened reality of the “How Bad Have You Got It?” campaign.
The series is helped by depicting the actions of one man and his NASCAR addicted family over a majority of the ads.
Personal favorite: spraying champagne at a wedding anniversary.
When Dale Earnhardt came to Daytona under different circumstances, the preparation remained the same for shepherding the seven-time champion with an enormous fan base.
Corvette Racing manager Doug Fehan recalled arranging security for Earnhardt and his son for getting to and from their motorhomes while they raced the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. It turned out to be mostly unnecessary as they drew large packs of respectful fans but without a mob scene.
“They were very respectful,” Fehan recalled during the second half of a two-part NASCAR on NBC Podcast about the Earnhardts racing the 2001 Rolex. “It was amazing to see.”
Earnhardt was moved by it enough to remark about the sports car atmosphere while having lunch with Fehan.
“(Earnhardt) said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Fehan said. “‘This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in racing seeing this.’ I said, ‘I want you to enjoy it.’ It’s what racing can be when you’re not running for a million dollars a race. When you put big money on it, it wouldn’t be like this. This is a family. Every team in this paddock is in the same boat paddling. We just have a different oar.
“He loved it. He liked the whole experience. He loved that form of racing. Which led to further conversations about wanting to (race the 24 Hours of) Le Mans. Going to Le Mans was going to be like the pinnacle for him.”
It might have been the first of many post-NASCAR excursions in racing for The Intimidator, who was killed in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 two weeks after the Rolex 24.
“When I think about (the 2001 Rolex 24), sometimes I think about that, and sometimes I don’t,” Earnhardt Jr. said in the podcast. “I just appreciate that we got to do that, before he was taken away from us. Because that was probably one of the first dominoes in a series of things that he might have wanted to do outside this life as a race car driver in NASCAR.
“He may have had other unique things that he had to check off his list. And that was probably the first one because I was real surprised when he came up with the idea to even do it. I didn’t think he was the type of guy who would do these extracurricular things outside of his immense responsibilities. He was a busy, busy man.”
Earnahrdt Jr. said he was “absolutely, 100% sure” that his father would have run Le Mans. Fehan said the logistics already were being formulated for getting Earnhardt to France, and Corvette Racing had a spot in one of its cars.
“We worked out how to fit scheduling for testing and travel,” Fehan said. “I don’t want to say it was 90 percent of the way there, but everybody agreed on doing this. We had the framework and the foundation pretty solidified.
“It was his dream. He was only going to run one more year of Cup. Then he saw himself to be able to compete a number of years. Not just a Le Mans race. He wanted to do more sports car racing.”
After Earnhardt’s death, Corvette honored the NASCAR Hall of Famer with special stripes on its car for a few years. Earnhardt Jr. ran a black-themed bumper on his No. 88 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports as a tribute to the Rolex 24, where the No. 3 Corvette finished second in class and fourth overall.
Earnhardt Jr. also has a street model replica of the No. 3 Corvette. His father was supposed to have a matching version.
“It means more to me now than I ever thought it,” Earnhardt Jr. said of the car. “When we decided to have these cars made, I didn’t know Dad was going to be taken from us just a short time later. It took a while for these cars to get built. The wing on my car came from the second place-finishing Corvette at Le Mans that year. The wing on Dad’s car came from the winning car.
“Dad didn’t want his wing painted. He wanted all the rubber and debris from the race still on the wing. I wanted mine to be painted because I wanted it to match (and) I wanted to drive around town. I wasn’t even thinking or I’d have left it alone. That’s why Dad was so smart! He left his wing dirty.”
Earnhardt Jr. drove the car for several years but doesn’t anymore after replacing the splitter (“because it’s so low to the ground, I don’t want to hurt it”) and re-decaling.
“This is a bit of a symbolic piece for me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Something that we did together at the end of his life.
“I only have a handful of cars to my name, and there’s only one or two that I will never ever get rid of, and this is one of them. I’ll always have this.”
Also in the podcast:
–Earnhardt Jr. discusses whether he will return to the Rolex 24 (“The door is always open to run that race again. I’d never run full time. Never want to really run Le Mans. But the Daytona 24 Hours race having done it before makes it very special to me. The cars are so much fun.”);
–The lasting bonds and friendships formed by the Earnhardts during the Rolex 24;
Their first spins around Sebring International Raceway in sports cars were a little too literal for Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There were some lucrative silver linings from a crash course in learning how to race a Corvette, though.
In preparing for the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the Earnhardts went to Sebring to learn the nuances of driving a GT car, which have more sophisticated cockpit technology and precision braking and handling than the stock cars of which they were accustomed.
Within his first 15 minutes on track, Earnhardt Jr. had crumpled the back end of the Corvette. Late in the day, his father joined him
“We got a pile of parts sitting there from both of them crashing,” Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan said in a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast (links below). “Dale says, ‘This isn’t really the way we wanted to start.’ I said, ‘I think it was inevitable. End of the day, I’m not sure it wasn’t a good way to start because you both have learned the limits of the car.”
Earnhardt told Fehan he still felt bad about the expense and trouble for the team. Fehan pointed at the pile of parts.
“Don’t worry, you and Junior are going to sign all those, and we’re going to sell them,” Fehan said. “We’re going to get the money back.”
The Earnhardts then grabbed Sharpies and headed to the scrap heap.
Beyond making the best of it with their autographs, Earnhardt Jr. said crashing early “probably was a good thing” in getting acclimated to the Corvettes.
“I’m the guy that everyone looks at and thinks, ‘Man, he’s probably the weakest link,’ ” Earnhardt Jr. said in the podcast. “So I put a ton of pressure on myself right out of the gate to be very fast.
“I mashed the gas, and it just spun out. It had so much power, you could just spin that thing out so easily just by touching the throttle pedal. I backed into a bridge abutment. I thought I had killed this race car.”
Once the car was back in the garage, though, the Corvette team unzipped some large black bags and had the rear end replaced in about 20 minutes.
“‘OK, get back in!’” Earnhardt Jr. recalled the team saying. “I tore this thing to hell, and you’re going to fix it with new stuff and want me to get back in it! You’re not going to let me take a couple of hours to think about what I did, send someone else out there. ‘No! Get back in, you’ve got to learn!’
“I got back in and took a little better care of it the rest of the day.”
It was near the end of the session when his father lost control on a fresh set of tires, and Earnhardt Jr. believes he was partly responsible.
“Dad’s out there, I’m way faster than him,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’m like, ‘Dad, look at me, doing good!’ and he’s like, ‘It’s not important how fast we’re going. We ain’t even racing here. I don’t know what the big deal is.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’
“Well right at the end of the day, I think it was eating away at him a little bit. He wouldn’t admit it. It’s 5 o’clock. It’s time to stop. He’s like, ‘Put me some tires on this!’ One last run, he goes out and is running a lap by the flagstand to start his run. He nosed the car into the tire barrier head first in the last corner.
“I knew he was pushing as hard as he could to match or better my time. So there was some competition between us two that I think he would never admit to. Because I’d be like, not ‘I’m better than you,’ but ‘Look at what I’m doing! Isn’t this cool?’ He’d be like, ‘We don’t even race at Sebring. We race at Daytona! I don’t know why you’re pushing so hard, you’re going to tear it up.’ We had two completely different approaches.”
But there was much common ground for a duo that didn’t always spend much time together at the track. When Earnhardt Jr. was up and coming in Late Models, his father rarely attended his short-track races. They competed together for only one season together in Cup but on separate teams.
The Rolex 24 provided a unique opportunity to work together on a full-time basis.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been to him to be able to do that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Usually we’re racing on the racetrack and against each other. He might not even see me all day or know what I’m doing. Here we are together, debriefing and talking about the car and changing things on the car together.
“This is a really great opportunity for me to show him just what I thought about race cars and how I communicated.”
Listen to the NASCAR on NBC podcast to hear more stories about the Earnhardts’ run in the 2001 Rolex 24, including:
–How Dale Earnhardt grew close with the Corvette Racing team (“He said I want to be treated like any other guy on this team,” Fehan said. “I don’t want to be treated as Dale Earnhardt. I’m just a driver like anyone else on this race team. Coming from anyone else, I would have thought it was BS. Coming from him, it was genuine. He was serious about it.”)
–The welcoming reception he received in the sports car community (“Dad had a lot of respect for people all across all forms of motorsports. He sort of crossed those lines and boundaries. So I think everybody was like, ‘This is great!’ They weren’t intimated by him from a competitors’ standpoint. He didn’t act like, ‘Boy I’m going to light the world and show you guys. I’m Dale Earnhardt, move out of the way and give me my space.’ He just came in there inquisitive, asking all the right questions. Easy to approach, and people just liked it, man.”
–Why Earnhardt initially believed the team didn’t necessarily need a fourth driver, and the Daytona test that told him otherwise.