ponders life after driving
Mooresville, North Carolina
(September 24, 1998)
seemingly endless troubles on the track have left him pondering his future.
From the helicopter resting on the front lawn to the
steel, concrete and smoked glass of the main building, everything about Dale Earnhardt
Inc. is state of the art.
But where does DEI's founder fit in?
Earnhardt is approaching the end of a season that has been one of the most gratifying and
frustrating of a magnificent Winston Cup career that began in 1975.
The highs include his first-ever victory in the Daytona 500 and the emergence of his
23-year-old son, Dale Jr., as the hottest new driver in stock car racing.
The lows include a long list of events in which Dale Sr. never flirted with being
competitive, either in time trials or during races. The result is that he is headed for
his worst finish in the driver standings since 1992 and once again will come up short in
his bid to win a record eighth Winston Cup championship.
His troubles on the track have left Earnhardt pondering his future.
``I turn 50 in three years, and I don't know whether I want to race past that or not,''
said Earnhardt, whose contract to drive for Richard Childress expires after the 2000
``But I'm good to go through my contract with Childress, and my determination is to win
races and try to win that other championship.''
Earnhardt and his company are in negotiations to try to improve the strength and
performance of several Chevrolet teams. Talks are under way to establish a competitive
technology-sharing alliance among DEI, Richard Childress Racing and Andy Petree Racing.
If the merger happens, it would furnish the group with information from up to six Winston
Cup cars. RCR fields two cars, and others are headed in that direction.
Earnhardt hopes that kind of alliance could provide whatever ingredients might have been
missing this season.
He qualified fourth then won the Daytona 500, and qualified second in Talladega, Ala. But
there have been few other bright spots.
He was 12th in the driver standings in early June when Childress decided to switch crew
chiefs. Earnhardt's crew chief, Larry McReynolds, moved to Skinner's team; Skinner's
chief, Kevin Hamlin, took over for Earnhardt.
The move helped Earnhardt climb to eighth in the points, but he is 1,015 behind leader
The low point of the season might have come last weekend in Dover, Del., where qualifying
problems meant Earnhardt had to start last on the 43-car grid. He was never competitive
and wound up 23rd -- four laps behind winner Mark Martin.
``I don't like racing at Dover like I did Sunday,'' Earnhardt said. ``I mean, it was a bad
day from the start. The car wasn't handling. The guys worked diligently on it. Nobody gave
up. But still, it was a bad day for us.''
If there are too many more of those bad days in the next two years, look for Earnhardt to
retire from driving and devote all his energies to DEI.
The company, on 350 acres of rolling farmland in the north Charlotte suburbs, is in its
infancy, but is off to a fast start. It is housed in four buildings that take up more than
200,000 square feet, including the 108,000-square-foot main complex.
DEI has already produced one of the top teams on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, with
Ron Hornaday as the driver. And it has launched the Grand National careers of Steve Park
and Dale Jr., both winners as rookies on the circuit.
Park is driving for DEI as a rookie on the Winston Cup circuit this year, and Earnhardt
Jr. is to follow him to the top series on a limited basis in 1999.
But don't look for the elder Earnhardt to eventually join his son as a Winston Cup driver
at DEI. Such a move would mean Dad technically would be working for wife Teresa, who
oversees the company's operations.
``I don't want to argue with my wife about her car -- or my driving. So that's out,''
Earnhardt said. ``I can argue with Richard. I ain't going to argue with her.
``I'm going to lose, and I ain't going to make much money doing it, either.''