Dale Earnhardt Jr. Says His Father Made Him Earn His Own NASCAR Career: “He Would Not Lift A Finger Unless You Were Willing To Do The Same”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Jr NASCAR
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What a pair.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch sat down together on former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen’s Youth Inc. podcast, and it was pretty awesome.

They covered their old beef from 2008 (that they’ve since patched over), how their fathers each influenced their respective racing careers, and how they go about helping their own children get opportunities as parents now.

Kyle has a seven year old son, Brexton, who currently travels and races all over the country in small circuit leagues (as well as a newborn baby, Lennix), and Dale Jr. has two daughters, 4-year-old Isla and one-and-a-half-year-old Nicole.

Greg asked them about their experiences growing up racing, too, as both of them had fathers who were in the sport. Kyle’s dad wasn’t a Cup Series driver like Dale Earnhardt Sr., but both of them learned early on that they were going to have to work really hard if they were ever going to make it in the sport.

Greg mentioned that Dale Sr. could’ve made a lot happen for Jr. if he wanted to, because he was the King of the sport at the time, but Jr. said that’s not what happened at all:

“He knew racing, and the way racing kind of works, at least the way it did back then, is he took the slower car, and he learned how to make that car better.

And he wanted to make that car faster, and that’s all he had at his disposal was what was in front of him.

Like in the 70’s when he was trying to get going, he lived all that, and showing initiative and workin’ as hard as you need to to get to that next level. He lived it, and he knew what he needed to see out of me, or Kerry, and even Kelley.

He knew what he needed to see, whether we were going to have the initiative or motivation to do it. And there were times when I didn’t show it, or I didn’t have it, you know.”

And if Jr. didn’t make the effort, his dad certainly wasn’t going to do it for him:

“And he didn’t help. He didn’t show any interest in me becoming a race car driver. You know, there were days when I’d walk up and go, ‘I wanna race! I wanna become a race car driver!’

And he’s like, ‘Well, what are you doing to make that happen?’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘Well you should be in the garage cleaning tools, I was sweeping floors when I was your age.’

I’m like, ‘Well how does that get me to driving?’ That don’t make no sense, right? And it took me a while to figure that out, but he would not lift a finger unless you were willing to do the same, and showed some initiative. He wasn’t gonna lay it out there in front of you.”

He also told the story of how he used to try to switch out parts on his late model stock cars for his car, along with his brother and sisters cars, too.

He said his dad would never let him do it, because the highest levels of racing used the ones that Jr. wanted to get rid of, and he needed to learn how to drive a car like that:

“And he’s like, if you ever get to the Cup Series, that’s what they’re racing. You’re not gonna run a coilover car just because it’s better, or faster, or handles better, or it’s the hot ticket right now.

If you ever get to Cup car, or Xfinity level, those trailing arm big spring car is what we race. So this is what you’ll drive and learn how to use and work. I was like ‘Man, well I’m getting beat!’

I probably wasn’t, I probably could’ve taken that trailing arm big spring car and made it beat the big spring car, but in my mind, I’m thinking ‘Man, I’ve got my arms tied behind my back here trying to race this car.'”

Of course, Jr. has talked publicly many times about how he and his late father had a strained relationship at times, especially as he was growing up and didn’t always get to see him because his dad was always gone racing.

But Jr. knows that, deep down, his dad loved him and cared about him a lot, which is why he wasn’t going to let him get away with half-assing anything:

“So he wasn’t just like, go down the road and figure it out, he had a purpose.

There was a method, which made you feel like, ‘oh, it matters a little bit to him.’ He does care that we’re trying to follow in those footsteps.”

Regardless of whether or not you come from a family of pro athletes, I think a lot of us can relate to Jr.’s experiences with his dad and how Sr. wanted his son to learn the value of hard work and going after what you want.

I mean, I got flashbacks to shedding a few tears trying to do 2nd grade math because my military dad expected excellence and kept making me redo it until I got it right… it builds character, though, right?

Of course, now I look back and I’m very thankful for that, but it can be a rough go from time to time. And if your dad is an American icon like The Intimidator, well hell… more power to Jr. for leaning into that and carrying on the family name in racing.

Honestly, it’s pretty refreshing to hear that Dale Sr. was that kind of a parent (not that I expected much less), and this whole episode is really insightful.

I highly recommend checking out the whole thing, but this specific story starts around the 21:11 mark:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock