Jr. leaving Dad’s company (Dale Earnhardt Jr. moving on)
“We're calling this press conference here today to announce that after a year of intense negotiations and intense effort on behalf of Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated and JR Motorsports that we've decided it is time for us to move on and seek other opportunities to drive for a new team in 2008.
“Because DEI means so much to me, I felt it was best now for both of us to start focusing on our future so that we both could come out of this successfully. Trust me when I say that DEI will come out of this successfully. Teresa and Max Siegel are taking the necessary steps to bring DEI back to one of the front-running NASCAR teams.
“However, at 32 years of age, the same age as my father was when he made his final and most important career decision, it is the time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now. What team I drive for next season, I don't know, we'll see what opportunities I have. We'll see who wants to hire me, who is interested for me to drive their race cars, and we'll decide from there. That is an announcement, obviously, for a later date.
“Today I want to say with complete sincerity that it's been a privilege to drive for DEI, and it will continue to be a privilege throughout this season. It's really all I've ever known. We've grown together, we've won together and we've lost together. It is important for me that my father's legacy continues.
“If I may speak openly to my fans, my dad's fans and fans of DEI and all of the people who watch NASCAR racing each weekend, please understand that my decision is one I make for my career. I make it in the utmost -- I make it with the most utmost respect to your loyalty and support. My motivation to climb in the race car each week is to satisfy my fans and give them what I feel they deserve.
Given that Junior thanked everyone but barely mentioned his father’s second wife Teresa Earnhardt (was left the company by her husband and Dale’s father after his death at the 2001 Daytona 500) you didn’t have to read between the lines to surmise the relationship between Junior and his father’s second wife must have been fractured for years. Junior’s sister by his side, his mother (Dale Earnhardt’s first wife) and other members of Junior’s immediate family were in attendance in a show of solidarity, one that left Teresa on the outside looking in with control of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated but little if anything else.
“While we are very disappointed that Dale Jr. has chosen to leave the family business, we remain excited about our company’s future. Our aggressive expansion and diversification plans have not changed. This company has continued to thrive since Dale left us in 2001, and it will thrive following today’s announcement. Dale and I built this company to be a championship-contender, and those principles still apply. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. will win, and we have other extremely talented drivers and hundreds of employees that are dedicated to the programs we founded. This company has a great legacy and a bright future, built on loyalty, integrity, and commitment.” Teresa Earnhardt said in statement released following Junior’s announcement.
“Obviously, our No. 1 priority was keeping Dale Junior and we’re disappointed,” said Max Siegel, president of global operations for D.E.I., who attended the news conference as well to the New York Times. “I think that there’s always been a real possibility that he could go somewhere and there were other options. Everyone remained extremely committed to the process.
“Much like Dale Junior, we’re exploring all the opportunities to enhance our company, to grow to four cars and to be strong in competition and diversify the company.”
Teresa Earnhardt remains very much in control of the key marketing resources associated with her late husband’s legacy. Those assets include the rights to market and sell Dale Earnhardt’s image. One other asset DEI remains in control of the number 8 that has been associated with whatever car Dale Earnhardt Jr. has raced in for many years.
“It would be awesome to continue driving the number 8, but those numbers are obviously owned by the car owners and that is probably something that Teresa would prefer to have stay at DEI. I'm assuming that that's probably what will be the case.” Junior offered at Thursday’s media session. Junior is likely correct in suggesting Teresa likely intends to keep the right to the number 8 but what good it will do DEI remains to be seen. At the heart of any successful marketing program are consumers feeling good about that product. By denying Dale Earnhardt Jr. the benefits associated with a number and brand his success has built does a disservice to NASCAR and the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. The real question NASCAR fans will be asking “Shame on Teresa for not allowing Dale’s song the right to his racing number, what would Dale think”. Teresa can’t win either way, but given that Dale Earnhardt’s son is leaving his company the fate is number 8 is unfortunately tied to the troubled relationship.
“Well, the most classic statement that I’ve heard, and it came from Tony Stewart: ‘What’s D.E.I. without Dale Jr.? A museum,’ ” Waltrip told The New York Times. “And that’s a pretty good analogy, I would say.”
Junior sat and answered question after question. One issue raised and one that remains difficult for non NASCAR fans to appreciate the amazing loyalty NASCAR fans have with their favorite drivers.
“Well, I don't think my fans have to worry about that part of it. I'm disappointed, So I expect my fans to be disappointed. Obviously, I know a lot of my fans wanted me to stay at DEI and continue driving for DEI, So I expect them to be disappointed in that aspect of it.
“Again, hopefully I can go accomplish the things that I want to accomplish and put on the show that I think I can put on. Give my fans more to celebrate. I feel like over the last years or two I've short changed my fans. They've been very loyal and sticking behind me when we haven't been able to put up the result that's we feel like we're capable of doing.
So I'm hoping to win some races and win some championships to give those guys what they paid all that money to go see us for.”
For his part Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear the decision wasn’t an easy one, and while he wouldn’t name names he did reach out to others before making his decision.
“I don't really want to name names. I talked to a lot of people just about everybody. You know, I've been in this sport for a long time, and I've got a lot of relationships with owners and people within NASCAR itself. You know, when my father passed away, that dependency on advice and information started going in a lot of different directions. Dale Jarrett and Bobby LaBonte were two of the guys that I would go up to and ask about a track or a line I'm running or the way my car drives or maybe a personal problem I'm having at home or something to do with my family. How am I supposed to handle certain things? And for the most part I've found a good group of people that I can really trust and that I feel can shoot me straight.
“So, you know, none of those things really effected my decision. They just sort of backed up some of my beliefs and where I felt like I was right or wrong. I've always had a real hard time knowing what kind of weight I carry in the sport. And through other drivers and my sister, and other employees of mine, I've been able to sort of come to an understanding of what that is and what that means. And that's helped me make the decision. But nobody and I can tell you no one person has convinced or swayed my opinion as far as the decision I'm making today and whatever decision I make in the future.”
Jeff Gordon appears poised to capture his fifth NEXTEL Cup, but its Junior who remains the most popular NASCAR Cup driver, the sports most marketable star and a NASCAR driver every NASCAR owner (except Teresa Earnhardt) will be very interested in talking to Junior about signing with their team.
“I drove for DEI my entire career. It's been successful and been a lot of fun. We've had a lot of -- we've done a lot of great things and I believe that company will continue to do good things and continue to surprise people.
“We're just going to, we sort of have carved this out between me and my sister. We worked really hard to come to an agreement with DEI, and that was what we focused on throughout the entire negotiations. Me and her haven't had a moment to really sit down and talk about what our opportunities are. We will certainly start to seek those out and see where we feel we would be most comfortable. But I don't really -- I've never been in this position before, so I don't know what to expect, and we'll just have to deal with each bridge as we cross it.”
A better question as Dale and Kelley sit down and negotiate where Junior will be racing next year will be whose ready to offer the biggest paycheck be a determining factor?
“I think there's not one team out there that's going to lay a dollar figure in front of you that's any different than anybody else. They all probably can do about the same, so the money's not really the issue. It's not the guy that gives me the biggest paycheck. It's the person that I feel like will allow me to accomplish what I want to accomplish throughout my career on the racetrack, in this shop itself, with my employees and our company.
One intriguing choice, Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged the real possibility Junior could head to Richard Childress Racing, with the very real possibility an Earnhardt could be driving the number 3 car in the not too distant future.
“There’s a lot of logical -- there's a lot of logical scenarios that people are going to put together. We saw -- we've seen quite a few scenarios over the last couple of days that were kind of amusing. Some bright and some not so bright. But you know, I have a great relationship with Richard and I feel like on his behalf, that he stepped his programs up. He's made a great effort to improve and be as good as his teams can be.
“With respect to my father, I don't feel very comfortable with that. He made that number what it is. With respect to him, I believe that it belongs to him, you know what I mean? I never say never, and I've told you guys before that I was interested in doing that but later in my career, and I still feel like that. I still feel that way. If that's something Richard's interested in, we can explore that, but that's a long way down the road. And again, I'm just going to, like I said, I'm going to listen to everybody who wants to talk and form my decision from those discussions.”
One issue Dale’s sister Kelley tried to make clear on her brother’s behalf, at the end of the day she and her brother are still Earnhardt’s.
“We're still Earnhardt’s. We still have a relationship with Teresa and Kerry and Taylor. For whatever the future holds for us as participants in Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, there's lots of years to figure that out. And Dale and I both want to be very supportive of Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated and their efforts because it is our family name as well. So we will do everything we can to support their rebuilding that team and the efforts that they're putting forth to make that team successful.
NASCAR is a very close community and that includes the media who cover NASCAR on a regular basis. One observation made at Thursday’s presser, how at peace Junior seemed with himself and his decision (a message that was easily conveyed on the Speed TV telecast of the media conference).
“Yeah, you know, it's hard to say what's been the hardest part, the hardest thing to deal with in my life. We've had a lot of great things happen, but we've also dealt with some tragedies. I was very sad earlier today. It was really hard talk to go the employees, talking to my team, I don't expect those guys to understand fully.
Still one has to wonder if Dale Earnhardt would have ever imagined a company he created in large part as a legacy to his children, especially his namesake who is one of NASCAR’s best would feel about two of children (Dale and Kelley) leaving DEI?
“Obviously I think -- obviously, I feel like his vision, and he said it himself, was for me to have a huge role in the company itself throughout the negotiations I felt like me and Kelley came to the understanding that that was not in the cards, you know what I'm saying? So it may be in the cards 20 years down the road. It may be something that happens. But from a driver's standpoint, and from where I feel I am as a driver and what I want to do and what I want to accomplish, this is a decision I made today.” Earnhardt Jr. commented.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom