MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
BASS PRO SHOPS NRA NIGHT RACE
BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
AUGUST 17, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AXALTA/DUCKS UNLIMITED CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media today at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed being a voice in the sport, being back in the Xfinity Series, what Bristol Motor Speedway has meant to him over the years and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Before fielding questions from the media, Bristol Motor Speedway announced to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. that the track is starting an annual scholarship in his name to be awarded to a Sullivan County Tennessee student interested in pursuing a career in the automotive industry.
“That is what I’m talking about man. That is awesome. Man, that is awesome. I appreciate the track and especially what that will do for some individual and doing it annually. Wow! That is going to be pretty neat. Hopefully, the guys and girls who get that opportunity take advantage of it. I appreciate that. The track has been… honestly, when I was a little kid, the night race here was my favorite race in the season. We didn’t get to go to all the races. Typically, we went a lot in the summer. We begged to go to all the races, but Bristol was my favorite for a lot of different reasons, but as a 12 to15-year-old kid, this place was just the ultimate playground. We enjoyed coming here and the racing has always been incredible. It is so special and unique, different than anything else we do and just something I’m super proud of for the sport. It’s been an incredible race track and has done so much for NASCAR over the years to promote the sport and give folks a great place to come enjoy a race. Everything that happens around the race track, outside the race track, the atmosphere before and during race weekends is really great. You guys do an awesome job to keep coming back. It is definitely still my favorite stop and I’ll be lucky, I guess is the way to put it, to be able to call this race next year and be a part of the broadcast team when we come back. So, that is great that we will be back and again, thanks for that, that is exactly the kind of thing that gets me excited and I appreciate you guys doing that.”
While on site at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was also presented with an original Sam Bass portrait of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race souvenir program cover that features his race car and image.
“I appreciate that Sam. Sam (Bass) has been great for the sport, but a great friend to myself and my Father and our whole family. I don’t know that I have an original print, not a print but the original painting so this is very special. I appreciate everything you have done for us and everything you have done for this sport. You have been a key part of it. Thank you very much.”
WHAT MEMORIES STICK OUT TO YOU ABOUT BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY OVER THE YEARS?
“You know when I think about Bristol… when we came here as kids we just had a blast. They didn’t have the haulers in the infield and all the owners and drivers and everybody would park their cars in the infield. We had vans, comfort coach vans or custom vans, most of the drivers had a custom van at that time. All the kids, like all the driver’s kids, crew chief’s kids, we all ran together. As soon as you would get to the track you would seek each other out. We didn’t have phones and stuff to talk during the week, so when you would get to the race track you would run around seeing who was here and who wasn’t. We all just got together and then we would decide what we were going to do. A couple of drivers would park their vans in the corners and we could sit up on top of those with the best seat in the house in my opinion and watch practice. We would watch everything, practice, racing and all that. I remember that. It was just so fun to come here. This place it was crazy. There weren’t a lot of high-banked short tracks. This was really unique, exciting, with the way the cars were going through the corner and the view we had from the top of those buses, we felt like we were 20 feet from the cars. You could really see the cars working and what the guys were fighting. And then obviously, when there was any kind of activity or aggressive driving and stuff, I mean it was right there in front of you. It was really incredible. So, I think about that a lot and sort of miss that part. I miss being a kid you know and running around here with all my friends.
“Dad won a handful of races here. He had those trophies in the house. I remember when he built his log cabin, he had them all up on this ledge, about a 10-foot ledge, and they were all up there to the right of the fireplace. It’s another track, there are a couple tracks in the schedule that have unique trophies and they haven’t changed, which I’m glad. And this is one of them. For a while that trophy was taller than I was and I had been lucky enough to go to Victory Lane with Dad a couple of times, so, that was a trophy that I wanted. I felt really, really lucky to have gotten one. I don’t have many trophies in the house, but that is one of them that I keep in the living room because when you win here the driver is a big part of it. So, a lot of tracks, the bigger tracks, you need a lot of race car to do well, and here you need a really good driver. And I felt lucky and fortunate to have got a victory here.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT JUST THE INTENSITY OF JUST GETTING YOURSELF BACK IN THE CAR HAS IMPACTED YOUR INTENSITY OR FOCUS OR HAS IT WORN YOU OUT AT ALL GOING THROUGH THIS SEASON?
“No, not really. You know there was a point during the recovery during my rehabilitation there was a big chunk of time where I wasn’t coming back. I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to come back. I didn’t think that I would be… my doctor always says, you can get well enough to be able to just be back to yourself. But to be an athlete in any sport you possess instincts and reaction time. You possess these attributes that are above the average individual and you hone those and over the years those are improved and sharpened. And when I got hurt, I lost all of that. I lost all of my advantage to being a race car driver. But that wasn’t a big deal because I was so bad off, I just wanted to make sure I got normal. Got back to being able to not be miserable all the time and feeling miserable. But there was a big chunk of time where we weren’t going to come back and didn’t think we should come back. Didn’t possess the attributes to be able to come back and drive. So, my doctor told me he said ‘once you get well enough that you feel like yourself and you come in here, you are going to come in here and say hey how much more work do we have to do to get to the level that I was at before the injury.’ So, we started discussing that and went to work trying to sharpen those attributes and made the decision to try to come back. And once you make that decision you know you’ve made it. But, I thought that I could come back and do well.
“There are a lot of things that play a role in being competitive. I think that I’m healthy and I’m happy and thrilled that I’m healthy. I still think I can drive a race car, but there is really no excuse for us not performing well or meeting expectations. There is no excuse for missing a lot of races. Kyle (Busch) missed a lot of races with his injuries and came back and was successful right out of the gate. So, I mean I felt like I was ready. I felt like I could come in and compete. I still feel that way. We’ve just got to get our stuff together as a team. I think the team feels like… the team works closely enough with me to know that I’m plugged in and they still see something in me that gives them confidence that if we can get the cars going and get everything working right we can have some good runs. There is still some time to make that happen, but we’ve got a long way to go to catch some of those guys. Some of those guys are so fast, I don’t know where that speed is at, but it’s not at the race track. But, yeah, being out of the car was hard. A lot of hard work to get back, but once I was fresh and charged up and ready to go in February when we got to Daytona and I still feel good today. I don’t feel like that I am missing anything or if I’m not mentally or physically aware. Does that make any sense? A lot of rambling there…”
YOU AND NUMEROUS OTHER ATHLETES TWEETED OR HAD OTHER COMMENT ABOUT THE CHARLOTTESVILLE SITUATION. WHAT ARE YOU FEELINGS NOW ABOUT HOW ALL THAT IS DEVELOPING?
“It’s sad and frustrating to see what happened and you feel sort of somewhat responsible to speak on it. I think that it’s great that a lot of athletes did speak on it. It encourages people like myself to speak up. I think that it’s been a very difficult period of time over the last couple of years for our country and obviously there is some stuff that happened today in Barcelona (Spain). It just makes you wonder what in the hell is going on in this world, you know? It’s really frustrating because we ought to be better than that. We ought to be smarter than that, than to be trying to tear each other a part. We ought to be working together, but it just seems like that is getting harder and harder to do and there is less and less of that.”
YOU SEEM GENUINELY TOUCHED BY THE SCHOLARSHIP PRESENTATION THERE BY JERRY CALDWELL (TRACK PRESIDENT). WHY DOES THAT STRIKE SUCH A CORD IN YOU FOR THE TRACK TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
“I just like helping people. I have been blessed with a lot of things and I don’t need anything else and if the track is going to make an effort and maybe even put some money into something, I would rather them do something that is going to make an impact in somebody’s life. That is an awesome reward for me to see somebody benefit, somebody deserving benefit. I enjoy that and it’s fun to see kind of how the tracks get creative to make an impact in their own communities. That it’s going to… I thought it would be a one-time deal, so it surprises me that it’s going to be annual, but I think the track should be commended on an effort to do something that is going to be long lasting and impact someone else’s life. I just feel like … I don’t exactly know how to put it into the right words… but I feel like my life has been too good to be true and I just have had so much given to me and I feel like this obligation to turn it around and do something for someone else. And as I’ve gotten older I’ve done more and more of that and I feel the joy from that. So, I love to see that happen more and more and love to be a part of that more and more. As we get more and more creative with our initiatives on our foundation and continue to understand our ability to reach people and impact our communities and also impact the nation you do that out of enjoyment and pleasure. So, I get a great return on that. It’s a lot of fun to see somebody… maybe I will meet some of these people down the road. Like ‘I got this opportunity and I took it here and this is what happened’ and that will be a great feeling.”
DO ANY OF THE MOMENTS THAT ARE HIGHLIGHTED IN THE APPRECI88ION TOUR FROM THIS TRACK STAND OUT TO YOU?
“Yeah, I mean I see pictures of me and my Dad and it certainly… especially when you see something new, I think I get more and more appreciation for those type of things as I get older. You start to realize the value in a lot of things that aren’t material anymore. Yeah, I wasn’t that big into… it wouldn’t have impacted me at all many years ago, but this is certainly a season of reflection. As you get closer and closer to Homestead and the last race, it certainly gets a little more emotional and you are a little more sensitive to those things I suppose. But it’s been really incredible, our whole goal, this whole thing and we talked about it each week was to try to show the fans appreciation, but I have to be honest to hear what I’ve heard from people this year has been incredible about what they thought about my career and thought about me as a person. It’s been really incredible. You have no idea kind of what to expect going into the thing, but so far, it’s been tremendous, but yeah, as you get closer to the end of the season, you are a little more sensitive to a lot of things that bring back memories. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of me and Dad, tons and tons, when you see something that you have never seen before, I think for whatever reason that really, you have to take a second look and really try to remember when that was and think about what memories that might bring up.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER HAS IT EVER PHASED YOU THE IMPACT OF YOUR COMMENTS?
“Well, I mean, not bothered me I don’t think. You know, I think that sometimes you forget about the impact of your words and sometimes you forget about how many people pay attention to what you say. So, there have been times when I haven’t thought about that and done something and it’s a bit of a reality check. You know, well, I was just saying what I thought, but I didn’t know it was going to take off down the road like that and become this big story that has happened several times in my career. For me, I was never comfortable being in those conversations. Getting in the middle of a discussion that carried on for weeks wasn’t fun for me because you had to come in here (the Media Center) week after week and answer to it. So, we would just try to get in and out of the media center without sticking your foot in your mouth. But, I think as you get older you get more comfortable with carrying the weight of people disagreeing with that or criticizing your opinion. You get more comfortable with deflecting criticism and speaking your mind. Some arguments, yeah, you don’t need to get in the middle of. You’ve got to kind of pick your battles, but we get requested to come into the Media Center quite often, especially this particular season, and so I think that is something else that people outside of this room could keep in mind. Is that we are going to be in here every week and we are going to be asked all the questions that everybody wants to ask. I’ve always answered, in my opinion, what I felt was honest and correct and so there are a lot of sides to it that I don’t think a lot of people understand.
“People think that we seek out the media to tell them ‘look this is what I think, you write a story about this, I’m pissed.’ That is not the way it is. You guys come to us and we answer honestly and try to be thoughtful, but there are times when it gets kind of spun into this big thing and you are like ‘whoa, man, I really didn’t want to get in the middle of this’, now I feel like I’ve got to continue to explain myself. But, I’ve loved having the opportunity to have an impact. I think being a part of the driver council and having some influence in the sport and collaboration with NASCAR was a great experience. I’m not in the council anymore, but it certainly taught me a lot about the sport that I didn’t know. Even that far and late into my career. And social media is a great way to interact with folks, control the context of your opinions and apologize when you are wrong. It’s really a nice… I like it. I didn’t know that I would enjoy it and didn’t know that it was necessary, but it has become really useful every day. So, I’m not always right, don’t always and I try to admit when I’m not right in a conversation.
“Me and Clint (Bowyer) had a conversation about the comments I made at The Glen and found some common ground. I certainly see how that might upset him or somebody else and listening to both sides of it you get a little bit of … maybe it doesn’t change your opinion entirely, but you certainly understand where everybody is coming from. But, yeah, I don’t know, I didn’t want to be popular. I mean it’s nice being popular. I wanted to win more races and win championships, but if I’m a face of the sport or somebody that people listen to, I hope that I can always be thoughtful and honest and do things the right way.”
WHAT HAS THE ATMOSPHERE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU TO BE BACK IN THE XFINITY SERIES AND RUN ONE MORE AT RICHMOND, IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS. HAVE YOU PICKED OUT THE RACES YOU’RE GOING TO RUN? CAN THE FANS EXPECT YOU TO PERISCOPE NEXT YEAR?
“I don’t know. I need a reason to Periscope. I guess I could Periscope after the races and just kind of give my take on it, but I don’t want to be too opinionated, I guess. There’s a fine line between being tasteful and kind of overdoing it.”
IS IOWA ONE OF THE TRACKS YOU MIGHT RUN ON? IS THAT A POSSIBILITY?
“Yeah, it certainly is. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they seem to think it’s a great race track, drivers that run it. And, I’ve only got one race. I thought I had two. But we only have one. We don’t have a driver or a sponsor for the No. 9, so I’m hoping to run as many races as I can next year to try to help package a deal that might get sponsorship for that No. 9 and we can put a driver in there.
“But, I look forward to going to Richmond, I went over there and did the Victory Tour for those guys trying to help them get some tickets sold and we had a great time. And, we did win there, so it’s a great track for Junior Motorsports. We’ve been real competitive there for the last several trips to Richmond. That’s kind of why I pick It because I know we’re going to have a good set-up (laughs). Pick the tracks that they run really good at to maybe give me a chance to have a good run. So, there’s a little thought behind it.”
EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER, ARE YOU GLAD THAT THERE WASN’T SOCIAL MEDIA AROUND AT THE TIME? WHAT WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN LIKE FOR DALE JR. IF WE HAD SOCIAL MEDIA 10 YEARS EARLIER?
“I’d have gotten in trouble (laughter). Honestly, I think that I would have been really irresponsible and it’s probably best that didn’t come around until I got a little bit of common sense. But, that’s the conversation whenever you talk about it. The whole world has changed. There’s a camera phone in everybody’s hand. There’s the ability to put out content at a moment’s notice and capture content. It’s exciting. It’s very overwhelming and fast-paced, but it’s probably best that none of us had that, you know, years ago. But, it would have been all right I guess. It just depends. I was a different person five or 10 years ago. I’ve matured quite a bit. It’s probably best I didn’t have none of that stuff.”
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF YOUR LATE MODEL CREW CHIEF, GARY HARGETT, ON YOUR CAREER? WAS HE THE RIGHT KIND OF PERSONALITY FOR YOU AT THAT TIME?
“He was. He was perfect. He was like a grandfather to me. It broke my heart when I had to separate from him. We ran at Myrtle Beach and Florence, South Carolina. We kept the cars I ran in his shop near Pageland, South Carolina in Marshville. I worked at the dealership. So, I’d get done working at the dealership and I’d drive to Marshville and sleep at Gary’s house and then get up and go race on the weekends. My dad offered me this deal that was too good to be true. I lost my job at the dealership and went to work on Kelley’s late models building her cars. And Dad gave me an opportunity to bring my cars up to Mooresville where I lived for one final season in the Late Models. And I thought I needed to be able to work on my own cars and understand how they worked. Gary said he wasn’t going to drive that hour to work every day. So, it was a heartbreaker and a real difficult decision to make because he had become like a grandfather to me. But, I had to get my cars up where I was, so I could be around them all the time and work on them more often and sort of understand the mechanics of motorsports and how a car works and how it’s put together. But losing him meant I had to set the thing up. I struggled with that learning. But it was a crash course, you know, in trying to understand how the cars work. So, I had to do a lot of that on my own.
“But he had instilled in me how to treat people. I’ll tell you a story. We were putting a decal on the hood. We had these giant Mom “n” Pops logos. When I started, there were four of us. And when I finished, there was just me. I got done with this decal. It had bubbles all in it. It was terrible. I go outside, and Gary and two of the other guys that were there that were just volunteers, were sitting there drinking a soda. And I was like what the heck, why did you all leave? And he goes, you run us out of there. And he said you need to learn how to treat people because I’d been bickering at them the whole time putting that decal down.
“So, Gary taught me how to treat people with respect and he was a perfect mentor for me. He came along right at the right time.”
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