Would Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion hailed by many as the greatest driver in the sport’s history, be able to land a ride in today’s NASCAR?
That question caught Dale Earnhardt Jr. by surprise this week. Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer sat down with the popular driver for a wide-ranging interview, and stumped the driver with that hypothetical question.
“That’s a good damn question,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve never been asked that question before.”
According to Fowler, Earnhardt Jr. then paused for at least 10 seconds pondering the subject. To be fair, it is a tough question. Earnhardt, who died in a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, had incredible driving talent, but he was the quintessential old-school NASCAR driver. He learned the sport on Southeastern dirt tracks, was politically incorrect and liable to say anything that came to mind, never mind the consequences. That’s in sharp contrast to the polished, clean-cut drivers today who must be equally adept at wheeling a race car, entertaining corporate sponsors and dealing with the media.
Earnhardt Jr. finally gave this thoughtful answer about his late father.
“If Kyle Larson can do it the old-fashioned way, on pure talent — you know he don’t have a pocketbook — I think anybody can,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think Dad would certainly have had opportunities to have cleaned up his edge a little bit. Not so much his on-track persona — nobody wanted him to do anything different there. But these days he would have had more tools at his fingertips to help himself be a bit more marketable to sponsors.
“But anyway, there are people who want that kind of guy. He might not have had to change a thing. I have to believe, though, that a guy who just has a lot of talent can still make it out here.”
Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t think his father would have embraced everything about today’s NASCAR. Many drivers have huge followings on social media, but Junior says his father “hated computers.”
“Dad, he wasn’t too into technology. … He was a racer and he worked with racers, and trying to fit technology into your everyday life, accepting all that, maybe he wasn’t quite as open to that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He wouldn’t like Twitter. He wouldn’t like social media. … And I bet he still probably wouldn’t have his own laptop.”