Dale’s Dream for DEI

Reality or Nightmare?

 

As I begin to write this article I have to say it is the most personal to me and the most heartfelt to date. Dale Earnhardt was the reason I became a race fan. I was one of those who believed he was 10 feet tall and bullet proof. He could do no wrong. He personified racing and he was everything a racer should be. He was born to race. It was in his blood and his natural talent undeniable. He never started a race he didn’t think he could win and as long as it would still move and had wheels on it he wasn’t going to quit. Whatever it took to win, guts and fortitude, racing by the seat of your pants and a little bump and run all these things turned a small town boy from Kannapolis with a dream into a legend.

Earnhardt became a 7-time Champion driving for owner and friend Richard Childress. He had it all or so it looked to fans. He had legions of friends, more clout than any other single driver in the garage area and he had the ear of Bill France who respected Dale. He seemed to have what was the perfect life, he was a winner who garnered much respect and love from fans everywhere. He had a lovely wife on his arm each week and he had 4 children one who carried his name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and was set on following the footsteps of his famous father. Although both Kerry and Kelly tried their hand at racing neither exhibited the zeal and desire in the soul of Dale Jr. He idolized his father and had followed him from track to track since he was a small boy. He wanted to be like him. He wanted to be a true racer and someday a Champion.

Junior began his racing career at the late age of 17 with his dad, competing in the Street Stock division at Concord, North Carolina’s Motorsport Park and by age 19 after two seasons of driving the Street Stock Division. Earnhardt continued to hone his skills over the next few years by joining the Late Model Stock Car division. He competed on the North and South Carolina short tracks driving a No. 3 Chevrolet. While he did run various tracks during this time, Earnhardt primarily focused his efforts at the Myrtle Beach Speedway and the East Carolina Motor Speedway.  There he developed an in-depth knowledge of chassis setup and car preparation. He worked at his father’s dealership as a mechanic while he went to Mitchell Community College to earn an associate degree in automotive

technology. Junior did whatever he needed to do to prove to his Dad he wanted to race.

In the meantime, Dale Sr.’s dream was beginning to come to life. He had so much in his life. Enough money to live several lifetimes and he started to think about what he would leave behind. What would happen to his legacy when he was gone? Thus Dale Earnhardt Incorporated was born. Dale didn’t need a shop to race cars from and he never really wanted to be an owner. DEI was built so Dale Jr. and his other children would keep the legacy alive and flourishing.

The facility was spectacular fitting for a seven-time Champion. Called the Garage-Mahal. Dale Earnhardt Inc. was a monstrous 110,000-square-foot monument to excellence.  The showroom included trophies from throughout Earnhardt’s career, including his seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship trophies. This was the first time any of Earnhardt’s trophies or memorabilia from his lifelong career have been displayed for public access. Also included in the showroom are trophies won by Jr., Steve Park and Ron Hornaday; there were photographs of a look “Behind the Scenes” of DEI and most cherished to Dale were vintage trophies won during the late Ralph Earnhardt’s successful racing career that preceded that of his famous son. Dales dream was that the legacy would continue with trophies won by Earnhardt’s for many years to come. A place where people could come and see how it all got started and share his greatest victories and memories with his beloved fans.

23 January 2007 - NNCS Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway. (HHP Images/Harold Hinson)

DEI flourished with Dale Jr., Steve Park and Michael Waltrip driving and with the force and knowledge of Dale Earnhardt and the business and marketing expertise of Teresa Earnhardt. Teresa never made it a secret that she didn’t get into the racing side of the game. Her job was promotion and being sure that Dale’s image and likeness was protected and the products sold under his name were quality products they could be proud of. The racing was left to Dale and the team he had assembled around him who were experts and some were also family. To Dale family was important. He took care of family.

Anyone that ever saw Dale in victory lane with Dale Jr. saw that rough exterior the Intimidator displayed disappear and the smile and pride of a Dad shine through. I think at this point in his career he loved to see JR. win as much as winning himself.

Then that fateful day came we all thought would never come became a reality. Dale was killed in an accident on the last turn at Daytona blocking for Dale JR and Michael Waltrip who he knew one was going to win the race. The unthinkable had happened and the racing world stood still. The next week though broken hearted JR suited up and got back in the car because he knew that’s what his Daddy would want him to do. He continued to be the flagship at DEI though things were far from good. Teresa and JR had never had a close relationship and now it became a struggle with Teresa showing she had all the power.

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Although the late Dale Earnhardts assets remain private, his estate has been willed to his wife Teresa. Included in the will were his full NASCAR race team business (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated), his Chevrolet dealership, a $300,000 home next to his state of the art racing facility and numerous collector cars and boats. Teresa controlled it all and like the evil stepmother she had no intention of sharing it with Dale’s children. She held on with a death grip and refused to give an inch.

When it became impossible to reach an agreement with Teresa, JR was left no alternative but to move on to a lucrative deal with Hendrick Motorsports. Leaving DEI had to be one of the hardest things that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has ever done. DEI was where he grew up as a racer, first in the Busch series and later in the Winston Cup. DEI was where he won his first race. DEI was where he shared the racetrack and later victory lane with a father that passed too soon. Heck, the organization has his very name; Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. While moving to Hendrick may have guaranteed his future it was not DEI and never would be. Asked today JR says not a day goes by he doesn’t think what DEI could be now had things been different.

To add insult to injury just two months after he had competed in his last race for DEI, virtually every vestige of Junior’s 12-year tenure with his father’s company had been wiped away … albeit for a couple of souvenirs still for sale in the company gift shop. Gone were photos, trophies, race cars and virtually any other reminder that Junior was ever there. When first informed, Junior was as shocked as anyone, even lamenting how DEI wouldn’t even sell him a few prized helmets that he wanted to buy.

Now Teresa is more content to keep cashing in on Dale’s memory and image with virtually every February since his death we see a brand new line of clothing and souvenirs promoting the Man in Blacks’ legacy It’s not like she’s hanging around the shop every day. She seldom visits unless it’s to cut a merchandising deal or preside over a Foundation meeting. Dales wishes and dreams are lost on her. Racing and family were most important to him neither are to her.

Although JR still drives successfully for Hendrick Motorsports he branched out on his own to start JR Motorsports. Earnhardt Jr. hired his sister, Kelley, to run the operation and has hired many of his own family members — just as his father did. Kerry did not enjoy the same success in racing, but is using the Earnhardt name to build a successful business — just as his father would have wanted. But Teresa has had little to do with her stepchildren and has repeatedly stood in the way of them using the Earnhardt name — or their own name and birthright — to succeed on their own. Even as far as taking Kerry to court to keep him from using the Earnhardt name on his home design business.

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Will Teresa take her bitterness and greed to the grave? What would it take to change her heart and do the right thing and let DEI come back home to JR, Kelly, Kerry and even Taylor Nichole? All DEI has is history, it’s over. JR Motorsports is carrying the Earnhardt legacy now and Dale Sr.’s dream is dead because he entrusted Teresa to do the right thing. It’s not too late to resurrect DEI, let Teresa keep the merchandising of Dales image but let DEI come home to JR and let it once again be a part of NASCAR and be the powerhouse Dale SR’s vision was with Earnhardts racing there for generations.

The nightmare this has all become could once again be a beautiful dream but it’s all in the hands of the greedy stepmother. An inheritance is what you leave to someone. A legacy is what you leave in someone. Dale Earnhardt left his soul and fire for racing in Dale Jr. That’s where the legacy lives.