Dale, Jr. was born Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on October 10, 1974 in Concord, NC to the parents of Brenda and Dale Earnhardt. Dale Jr.ís parents divorced when he was just three and both he and his sister Kelly went to live with their mother. Brenda raised her three children during the next three years until tragically, their home caught fire and while figuring out what to do, Brenda sent her children to live with their Dad. Brenda soon moved to neighboring Virginia, but didn't move out of her children's lives. "I've always been in constant touch with them, and I've made many, many trips down (Interstate) 85," she said, "sometimes back and forth in a day. Both with him and with Kelly, we've always stayed very close.Though it would seem that because of who his daddy is, Dale Jr. would have been popular in high school, that wasnít how it was. He hung out with a small group of friends who pretty much hung tight and away from the so called "in crowd". Needless to say, his popularity status has since changed and all of the recognition he now gets, still catches him off-guard at times. Though he has many fans, he doesnít see himself as anyone "special" though he doesnít mind all the attention he gets from the girls now! Junior's father, "Big E", followed in his own father's footsteps in having Dale Jr. learn the sport from the ground up. He showed him how to get started, then let him find his own way. When Dale Jr. decided as a teenager that he'd like to try auto racing, he started much as his grandfather and father had. He didn't have the best cars, the best engines or the best parts, but he had a desire to learn and advance, and he was willing to spend his nights under the belly of a race car, working out the dirty details with used tools.
And being the son of the infamous driver of the #3 Goodwrench Chevy, one might think that that Dale, Jr. would have had an advantage when it came to pursuing a career in NASCAR Racing. Instead of having things handed to him, he got there by starting at the bottom and proving himself all the way up through the ranks to the Winston Cup Circuit. After high school Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to college and earned a two year automotive degree, after which he was hired to work as a mechanic in his father's Chevy dealership where he made only a little over $15,000 a year.Dale Earnhardt, Jr. began his professional driving career at age 17, racing competitively in the street stock division. Dale Jr. says, "I got started in racing by getting up $500 and buying a street car out of the junkyard, building it into a street stock car when I was 17 years old, my brother, Kerry, and I did that together." Within two seasons, he progressed to NASCAR's Late Model Stock Division. His first race car was a 1978 Monte Carlo that he co-owned with Kerry. He raced Late Model Stock Cars in South Carolina at both Florence Motor Speedway and Myrtle Beach Speedway in 1994. He also raced at tracks like Nashville Speedway USA, Hickory Motor Speedway and Tri-County Speedway in Hudson, N.C. There, he developed an in-depth knowledge of chassis setup and car preparation, while racing against Kerry and their sister Kelley. 1996 was a great year for Junior, he made 53 starts, grabbed 8 poles and won 2 races while finishing second in the points at Florence. He raced in the Late Model Stock Division for three seasons, and captured 12 Bud poles proving to himself and everyone else that he was ready to go to the NASCAR Busch Grand Nationals. With his father's guidance and his own experience on the short tracks throughout the Carolinas, Dale Earnhardt Jr was ready to take a bold step forward 1,3,4,5.In his inaugural Busch Series event at Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1996, Earnhardt Jr. posted a seventh place starting position and a respectable 14th place finish.
BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL
After running a limited schedule in 1997, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. began his first full NASCAR Busch Grand National season in 1998, driving the No. 3 ACDelco Monte Carlo. The car, owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc., had been driven the previous season by the NBS Rookie of the Year, Steve Park. Steve moved up to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series after only one season and now drives the #1 Pennzoil car owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc. The next driver to get behind the wheel of the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet was Dale Jr., all eyes were intently focused on the young driver4.Dale's first race in the car was the NAPA 300 at Daytona International Speedway. It was a tough start in his first full season as a Busch driver. Running over the jack on pit road during the race was the least of his problems, he was involved in a wreck where the car completely over-turned in mid-air and landed back on it's wheels. He wasn't injured but it sure gave him and his father some anxious moments.Earnhardt's first win in the series came on April 4, 1998, when he took the checkers at Texas Motor Speedway. This was his first win in the Busch series and in a rather nice coincidence, the win came in his 16th Busch race, just like his dad's first Winston Cup victory came in his 16th start.As his seat time accumulated over the '98 season, Dale gained valuable experience. The No. 3 ACDelco team went on to win 6 more races in 1998, at Dover, Milwaukee, California, Indianapolis, Richmond, and St. Louis. The performance of Dale Jr. and the ACDelco Team was turning heads. Budweiser, the "Official Beer of NASCAR," noticed the young driver and saw potential. On Sept. 21, 1998, it was announced that beginning in 1999, Budweiser would be the primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on NASCAR Winston Cup Series through 2004!Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the guidance of crew chief Tony Eury, Sr. became the first third-generation driver to win a NASCAR championship after starting the season-ending race at Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex. Although a blown engine on the 89th lap ended his day early, it didn't stop him from pulling on pit road, getting out of the car and putting his arms in the air acknowledging to the crowd that he and the #3 ACDelco Team were without a doubt the 1998 Busch Grand National Champions. The crowd responded with a loud cheer that could be heard over the revving engines. After the race, Earnhardt celebrated the title with an emotional lap around the track at Homestead with his father, the legendary Seven-Time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, Dale Earnhardt.When a person reflects on the 1998 season one should remember that Dale Jr. only had 9 BGN starts prior to 1998. By the end of the '98 season, the team had collected 3 poles, 16 top-5's, 22 top-10's, 7 wins and the NASCAR Busch Grand National championship! A new star was born.
1999 -- First 5 Races in Winston
In 1999, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to the No. 3 ACDelco Busch car for a second and final season. The pressure was on and in addition to Busch schedule, Dale Jr. would also run a limited five race schedule in NASCAR's elite Winston Cup division with the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy. His personal schedule was exciting but also rigorous. The ACDelco Team knew that it was important to defend the title, nothing less would be expected.It wasn't until the 15th race of the 1999 season at Dover Downs International Speedway that Dale Jr would capture his first win. This was the same track that he won his second BGN race in 1998. Once the ACDelco Team tasted the victory at Dover Downs, they went on to win the next two races at South Boston Speedway and Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen was a special race for Dale Jr. His transmission wanted to jump out of gear but he was still able to pass one of North America's premier road racers, Ron Fellows, for his third BGN win in a row - something that only a few drivers have accomplished. Added to the excitement of the Watkins Glen weekend was a concert in which Dale Jr jammed on the drums with his friends from "Bridge", an alternative band from Charlotte, NC.Things turned to concern on July 3rd when Dale Jr. was injured in a practice crash at Milwaukee in which he chipped the tip of a bone on his shoulder. Ron Hornaday stepped in and qualified the back-up car in the 15th position. The next day, even though he was battered and sore, Dale Jr. raced the car to a 3rd-place finish. When the checkered flag fell on the 1999 season, Earnhardt had earned six wins overall and Busch Series season record winnings of $1,680,598. He had entered the '98 Busch season with very limited experience in NASCAR. Two championships, and more than $3 million total prize money. Later, Dale Jr. elected to join the Winston Cup circuit full-time for 2000.The ACDelco Team struggled at Myrtle Beach and Pikes Peak but came back to win at Gateway International Raceway, Michigan Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, where his mother, Brenda Jackson joined her son in victory lane.When the end of the season was winding down it was a title match between points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr, and friend and competitor Matt Kenseth and Jeff Green. On Nov. 6th at Phoenix International Raceway, Dale Jr clinched the BGN Championship driving a car that had a special Superman paint scheme. The weight that was bearing down on Dale Jr was lifted, it was easy to see the pressure was removed from the driver in the post race interview, there's no doubt that his sleepless nights were over. "There was a lot of pressure. I don't know where it was coming from or why I felt it, but there was," he said.His father understood what his son was going through. "He did a good job," Earnhardt said. "He kept his head about him all year. He had a lot on him this year, a lot of pressure from doing the Winston Cup thing and also the Busch Grand National thing. He had a lot of pressure on him and a lot of people pulling at him. Heís weathered it good. Heís done a good job." The ACDelco Team took the championship with 6 wins, 18 top-5's and 22 top-10's, it was practically a repeat performance of the 1998 season. Dale Jr said, "It's been a good year - it's been a great year."
2000 Ė Rookie Year in the Winston Cup
Junior would use the No. 8 on his car fielded by Dale Earnhardt Inc., in honor of his grandfather's racing number.The 2000 season was Dale Jr's and the Bud Team's first full year in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. It was an exciting year for the fans. The Budweiser Team won two NASCAR Winston Cup points races and the Winston Select, the first rookie to ever win that race. Before the season many thought Earnhardt Jr. was the favorite in what would become a two-man race for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. It didn't pan out that way when Busch Series subordinate Matt Kenseth outran Jr. in the Daytona 500, 10th to 13th, and never let up in his run to the title. Kenseth ultimately scored a 42-point victory in the rookie race.After the Richmond Race in which Dale Jr. passes his famous pop and hangs onto the final 30 laps to win the race; after doing a "spring-break" beer bash in victory lane and body surfing his way over his giddy-crew down to the ground, one person stands watching who is especially proud, his mom. "He's a terrific young man, if I do say so myself," Brenda Jackson said softly. Jackson is Dale Jr.'s mom, and that Saturday was the first time she had been able to attend one of her son's big-league races. "The last two years, when he was in (Grand National), I made it to about seven," said Jackson, who lives two hours south of Richmond in Chesapeake, Va. "But I've started back to school, and I work all night on Friday nights, so between school and working, it's just kind of crazy." So was the scene in victory lane."I can't describe how much this means to me because ..." Jackson stopped mid-sentence as Dale Jr. happily screamed for her to join him posing with the race trophy for a hoard of photographers. And when she looks at her son these days, a potential new superstar in the fan-crazed world of Winston Cup, she marvels not at what he has accomplished on the racetrack but how he handles himself off it. "He's very, very grounded, and it would amaze people what he thinks is important," Jackson said. "It's friends, family, being at home. Those things are what's important to him, and in this life he has of traveling so much, I really don't see that changing." "That's a kid right there who's always listened to me, but it's kind of the other way now, and he's teaching me things," Jackson said. "He tells me what's going on with young people these days, and how they think nowadays, and what's cool, and things like that." Jackson paused, shook her head and smiled again. "He's just a very, very special kid," she said. "He's one of a kind, and that doesn't have anything to do with what he does in that car."It was clear that this young man can drive a race car. In his two Busch Series championship seasons he scored 13 victories after giving little forecast before that he would be a threat to dominate his division. The younger Earnhardt's campaign had two distinct faces to it and in the end, that dichotomy relegated him to 16th in the final point standings. "Little E" as he is affectionately known, scored three victories -- two of them in Winston Cup points races -- but totaled only five top-10s the entire season. Amazingly, his 10th place finish at Dover in early June was his last top-10 of the season.Earnhardt Jr.'s close relationship with his cousin, car chief Tony Eury Jr.; crew chief Tony Eury; and his crew, many of which had been with his Busch program, was both a blessing and a curse. The continuation of his Busch Series success to Winston Cup created an atmosphere that was too distracting and disruptive for the operation's success to continue. In the second half of the 2000 season he had six finishes of 30th or worse, and by the time he figured out what had disrupted the smooth flow of success he experienced earlier in the year, the season was over.Still, Earnhardt Jr. became the second driver to score his first Winston Cup win at Texas Motor Speedway, with 1997 inaugural winner Jeff Burton being the first. And Dale Jr. also became the first rookie to win The Winston all star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. With his victories and two Bud Poles, he qualified for 2001's two special events, the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and The Winston. Earnhardt Jr. was quoted as saying, "We are happy with what we did. We won races. That was great. We learned a lot. We did poorly in some areas, but we know how far we have to go. It taught us a lot about ourselves. We'd like to run more consistently in the top five or the top 10." He did have a part in recreating one Winston Cup milestone when he competed with his father and older half brother, Kerry Earnhardt, in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway, making it only the second time a father had raced against two sons. Lee, Richard and Maurice Petty had previously accomplished the feat.Dale Earnhardt Jr.., who had seemed invincible in consecutive marches to Busch Series crowns in 1998 and 1999, learned a major lesson in career focus in 2000.
2001 Ė Sophmore year in the Winston Cup
The 2001 season was Dale Jr's sophomore year as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver, the yellow stripe on the back of his car was gone, he was no longer a rookie. Even though the Bud team had a very impressive rookie season, they had problems both on and off the track, they wanted to change that in 2001. Going into Daytona early in February, no one had any idea just how difficult Dale Jr's sophomore year would be.The first race of the 2001 season had arrived, the fans were being treated to an exciting Daytona 500, in the closing lap the DEI cars of Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were 1st and 2nd, the 3rd place car was the famous black #3 of Dale Earnhardt. Michael won the race, his first in the Winston Cup Series, and Jr. took 2nd place, however, there would be no celebration. On the last lap of the race tragedy struck the Earnhardt family and the entire sports world when Dale Earnhardt crashed, he had lost his life doing what he loved to do. NASCAR had lost it's greatest driver, the Earnhardt fans had lost one of their heroes, Dale Jr. had lost not only his hero but his father. With a heavy heart Dale Jr, his family and those who knew Dale carried on. "We'll get through this," Jr. said. "I'm sure he'd want us to keep going, and that's what we're going to do." As time went along there were a number of difficult things that Dale Jr. had to deal with, for example, the pre-race ceremonies honoring his father would take his focus away from the task at hand: getting 'into the zone' to drive the car. There were also fans who wanted him sign things that were his father's, they didn't seem to understand that this would bother him. There were a number of other things he had to deal with, but through this time Dale Jr. showed strength and he was determined to keep going. His friend and Public Relations representative, Jade Gurss, said he could see a big change in Jr., it was as if he "grew up" over night.On the weekend of July 7th , Dale Jr. and the Bud team returned to Daytona, they showed just how determined they were by blowing away the competition that evening, in an ironic twist Jr. received drafting help on the final laps from Michael Waltrip (the man that won the Daytona 500 with the drafting help of Dale Jr.), the two DEI cars roared across the finish line in first and second. On his cool-down lap Earnhardt, Jr. said over his car radio, "yíall know who thatís for, guys." On September 11, 2001, a horrific terrorist attack took place in New York City, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, so huge was this terrible event that if affected every individual in the country in one way or another. Sporting events were not important, the race at New Hampshire was canceled. At this time peopleís thoughts and prayers were being directed to the many families who lost their loved ones, also many firefighters, police officers and medical personnel went to the scenes to help.The next race was at Dover Down International Speedway, there was much talk and concern about the September 11, 2001 tragedy, many drivers including Dale Jr. made generous donations to thelp the families that were affected. When raceday arrived Jr. and the Bud team were the ones to take the checkered flag, Jr. wanted to do something special so he had his crew give him a large American flag, he held onto it as he did his victory lap. At a time when many people were feeling down in spirit, Dale Jr. and the Bud team made them feel somewhat better that day.The Bud teamís third win came at Talladega, after great pit stops by the crew, it was all Dale Jr. in the closing laps of the race, he wheeled the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet exactly where he needed to, fortunately he was ahead of a large pack of cars that wrecked, it was "the big one". Jr. held off the few remaining cars behind him and took the checkers, not only did he win the race, as on of the No-Bull five contenders he won an extra million dollars for DEI and another million for a fan.When the season ended, Dale Jr. and the Bud team racked up three wins, nine top 5s and 15 top 10s. The team finished 8th in the points standings, by doing so Jr. got to say his "piece" (referring to his speech), at the Winston Cup Banquet in New York City, this was something he really wanted to do.Dale Jr. will race two Busch Grand National races in 2002; the first will be at Daytona, Richard Childress Racing, DEI and Nabisco are involved, itíll be the first time that weíll see the familiar #3 on the track since we lost Dale Earnhardt. Itís only right that Dale Jr. brings this number back on the race track again, he drove the #3 ACDelco for DEI in the Busch Series where he won two BGN championships in 1998 and 1999.Donít forget about that #8 Budweiser Chevrolet in 2002, theyíll be a contender. "I feel like weíre there and weíre capable of running for a championship," Junior said. "Our ontrack performance this year pretty much speaks for itself. We were able to move into the top-10 and we got as high as sixth, then we fell back a bit. But we got consistency, and thatís something we didnít have during our rookie year. Maybe weíll be a top-5 team next year, and maybe weíll be strong enough to run for or battle for the championship. Weíre definitely going to be thee, and if we can pull it off, itíll really be something." Being just a "regular guy" and partying with his friends are two things that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #8 Budweiser sponsored Chevrolet likes to do when he has time off from his NASCAR racing schedule. Outgoing and fond of being out in public, another of his favorite things to do is to hang out with his friends at the local Wal-Mart store. Doing these types of things, the up and coming star of the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit can relax and feel like just a normal every day type person for awhile.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Like most guys in their late 20s, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has come to a crossroads. He isnít quite ready to settle down, but he thinks about the perspective and joy that fatherhood might bring to his life. And he knows his reputation for partying is hurting his credibility."I guess I've kind of toned down just a little bit as far as being carefree and giving the appearance that I couldn't care less," says the 27-year old Earnhardt. An example: Earnhardt owns a small company, JR Motorsports, but that doesn't necessarily make him the boss. He hired a bunch of his friends and has since discovered what happens when he cuts them too much slack. "If we go out on a Wednesday night and get to raising hell and get drunk, I don't expect you to come in at nine in the morning," he says. " (But) when you give a little leeway, things get a little lax. Next thing you know, (stuff) ain't getting done." Earnhardt knows giving orders may never become his strong suit. But he considers himself a good judge of character, and hopes someday that will make him an effective businessman and leader at the team his late father founded, Dale Earnhardt Inc."I'm not sure whether I can really be that kind of person, where I can come in there and get something done," Earnhardt says. " But I think I know who to get to get it done." A suit and tie weren't part of Earnhardt's plans a few years ago; he figured he'd make enough money as a driver to retire and never work again. Now, he says, "At this rate, I can't see myself driving longer than 40 or, at the most, 45. Just like over the past two years, things can change and be different in a heartbeat. But if I had my choice, I'd love to be a major part of DEI for Earnhardt also thinks about fatherhood every time he plays with his 3-year-old niece, Carson. "It's like you're all (upset) because your '69 Camaro won't start. A kid just changes all that," Earnhardt says. "All those things that are so important to you just don't mean (anything) anymore, and I would love life to be that simple." But Earnhardt's reluctance to plunge into adulthood affects his romantic life."The last girl that I dated was perfect, nothing wrong with her," Earnhardt says. "She was awesome ó beautiful, good attitude, good personality. We got along really good. But it's just really difficult for me to give up how things are right now and how comfortable I am. It's hard to restructure yourself to where you share that with somebody or you have to give up certain things. "When I say give up things, I mean the really simple little pleasures of life ó your PlayStation or your Xbox. You know what I'm saying? Just simple stuff. And they would go, 'Oh, man. That's no big deal. Play your Xbox' But you can't play your Xbox, because they're sitting over there reading a book and you're wondering what they're thinking and they're wondering what you're thinking. And it (messes) the whole deal deal up."As NASCAR's most eligible bachelor, Earnhardt meets plenty of girls. But he says that doesn't make finding the right girl any easier. "We went out Wednesday for the first time in about two months, and it was awful because it was like, man, you're back to zero," Earnhardt says. "There ain't none of these girls you're going to want to ... spend time with. It's kind of a bummer." Dale Jr. has his own Club House of sorts where he and his friends can get together and can party down. Their place is called "Club E" and itís located in the basement of Junior's house, which incidentally is located on his dad's property in the state of North Carolina. Dale claims that itís the only place to be and that "Club E" is decked to the hilt with a big screen television, speakers as high as the ceiling and plenty of refrigeration for the main ingredient of any Dale Jr. party - the beer! This has been a disappointing season on the track for Earnhardt. He was involved in a hard crash the week after his victory at Talladega, and the residual effects from a severe concussion caused him to slide in the points and led to tension within his team. For a while, he says, he was off in "la-la land." Earnhardt didn't want people to know he wasn't OK, so he alienated himself from his crew. Fellow driver Dale Jarrett says he acted the same way while recovering from a severe concussion he received in a crash last September. "I wanted to spend a lot of time by myself," Jarrett says. "I was worried that people would be able to tell that I wasn't quite the same person." As a result, Earnhardt wasn't giving his team the feedback it needed to make the car run better. Now, he says, they're communicating more effectively. "Even if we're running (badly), it's still not as bad as it was, because we're getting along better," he says.Earnhardt has yet to sign a contract extension with the team, and will not sign until he is assured that there will be a firm cap on the number of off-track personal appearances he is required to make on behalf of the team's sponsors. "That way, I can kind of corral it," he says, "because it's not corralled. It's not under control." Still, Earnhardt's loyalty to his father's team is not in question: "I will drive at DEI until I'm retired." Fun loving and a party animal off the track, when he straps himself into his race car on Sundays, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is all business. Unlike his father in a lot of ways, when it comes to racing, Dale Jr. shows that he can be every bit as aggressive of a driver as his dad is.