Robert Duvall

Jamie Squire /Allsport

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares story on ‘Days of Thunder’ role his father apparently wouldn’t play

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Portrayed as the “Man in Black” and viewed by many NASCAR fans as the bad guy, there was one role Dale Earnhardt Sr. apparently didn’t want to play.

Rowdy Burns in “Days of Thunder.’’

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. told the story Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he admitted he wasn’t sure it was true.

Earnhardt Jr. reflected upon the movie, which debuted in June 1990, and put NASCAR on a national stage in a way it hadn’t before. Sure, there had been “Stroker Ace’’ in 1983 – Dale Earnhardt Sr. appeared in that movie as himself – but nothing like “Days of Thunder,’’ which featured Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall.

Earnhardt Jr. recalled when members of the “Days of Thunder’’ film crew came to meet with his father.

“Now this is all heresy because nobody was in the room,’’ Earnhardt Jr. said as a preamble to his story, “but dad and I guess the director/producer and (Tom) Cruise. But Tom Cruise comes over to the deerhead shop, (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) hadn’t been built yet. We’re excited. We’re going to meet Tom Cruise. We were giddy. Me and (sister) Kelley.

“(Cruise) comes in and he’s about a foot shorter than I thought he would be. They go into dad’s office and they come out 30 minutes later, and so I guess they’re picking dad’s brain, but the rumor was that they offered dad the role of Rowdy Burns. I don’t know if that was really true or not, but that was kind of the rumor, but dad turned it down because he didn’t want to play the bad guy. Just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true or not.’’

Earnhardt Jr. was asked if he ever talked to his dad about that story.

“I was so young,’’ Earnhardt Jr. said. “You hear the rumor later and I never really did get the chance to figure out if it was true or not. Hard to believe if it was true.

“I thought the movie was fun, great. I was a big Robert Duvall fan because I loved the miniseries “Lonesome Dove” when it came out and he’s just great in anything. I liked him being in it and thought he did an awesome job. I thought it was a fun movie.’’

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