The most popular driver in NASCAR for five years running, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the only third-generation champion in the sport. Like a lot of young drivers today, he has racing in his blood.
His grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt won the NASCAR sportsman championship in 1956 and his father, Dale Sr. followed in his footsteps and was a seven-time cup champion and won 76 races. Both Ralph and Dale Sr. have been selected to be among NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers of all time. Now, Dale Jr. has made a name for himself in the world of racing and already has 17 wins in his less than 10 year career. The three Earnhardts together have won 10 NASCAR championships.
Dale Jr. was born in Kannapolis, NC and didn’t start his racing career until the age of 17. It was then that he got involved in competing in the Street Stock division at Concord Motorsport Park.It didn’t take long for him to develop his driving skills and move to the next level. Within two seasons he was competing in the Late Model Stock Car division. He then took a shot at the Nationwide Series and brought home consecutive championships in ’98 and ’99. In 2000 Jr. went full time in the Winston Cup series and competed with his father and half-brother Kerry in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan. It was a milestone in NASCAR history, only the second time a father had raced against two sons. Lee, Richard, and Maurice Petty were the first to accomplish this feat.
The year 2001 was an emotional year for Dale Jr. His dad suffered a serious crash in the last lap of the Daytona 500 on turn 4. Jr. was the first to rush to his father’s side after the wreck but Earnhardt Sr. did not survive. Jr. tried to rebound the next week at Rockingham but finished 43rd. He did however, return to victory lane at Dover and Talladega that year and took and emotional win at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona where he lost his dad earlier that year. He was able to finish 8th in points.
In 2004, Jr. won the Daytona 500. It was six years to the day after his dad had won the “Great American Race”. The year wasn’t all fun and games for the young Earnhardt, however. During an off-weekend practice Jr. suffered a crash at Infineon Raceway. His car slid off course, hit a concrete barrier, and burst into flames. Jr. suffered second and third degree burns to his neck, chin, and legs preventing him from finishing two races. Martin Truex Jr. and John Andretti had to replace him in the middle of the races. By the fall of 2004, Jr. was back in business and became the first driver to sweep the weekend at Bristol, winning both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races.
In 2002, Jr. decided to expand his talent outside the seat of his racecar. He started his own company-JR Motorsports. It consisted of only 6 employees and a Camaro to race at local short tracks. Since then, JRM has grown to over 100 employees and now has several cars that compete in the Nationwide series and other local late divisions.
In May of 2007, Jr. announced that he would be leaving his dad’s company, DEI, to join the Hendrick Motorsports team. He said his decision was based solely on a desire to advance in the sport and achieve a Sprint Cup Championship. He would not be taking his #8 or Budweiser sponsor with him, both for which he was so well known. He did however, bring his cousin and crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. It didn’t take long for Jr. to make his own way and his fans followed the #88 Mountain dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet with no questions asked.
In July of ’07, Dale JR Motorsports joined up with Hendrick Motorsports to run two full-time Nationwide teams with HMS engines, chassis and technology. Aside from the realm of racing, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. owns Hammerhead Entertainment, a company that produces the TV show “Back In the Day” on SPEED and “Shifting Gears” on ESPN2. He’s also involved in a project for a new track. Alabama Motorsports Park is located near Mobile and will have stock car and KART racing as well as a road course.
One of his most recent endeavors is a bar named “Whisky River” in downtown Charlotte, NC. This well-rounded kid actually has a candy bar out called Big Mo’ and recently started his own recruiting division of the Navy called the Dale Jr. Division. His sister Kelley, with whom he’s very close, owns a Realtor company with him called DEJ Realty Inc. The 2008 season marks Jr.’s ninth season in NASCAR’s cup series and up through ’07 he has earned over $46 million in career winnings.