Spending Monday with Dale Earnhardt, Jr October 23, 2010Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
Spending Monday with Dale Earnhardt Jr.Ride Alongs, Giving a Kid a Helmet, One on One on his Crew Chief, Owner, Mood Headed Into Martinsville
By: Claire B Lang
Is it just me – or does it seem at times that when Dale Earnhardt Jr. yells on his radio or snaps that he “doesn’t care” at a reporter after a bad finish the exposure is massive? I’m not talking about coverage during a race, when he gets attention no matter where he qualifies or finishes. Earnhardt Jr. has a massive fan base that sticks by him. He often, however, also gets credit for not caring enough, for being lax, for being whatever the nay sayers want to say that he is not as a young man, as a human being, as a person, because of struggles on the race track. When he is something – shows tremendous character or does something extremely special, does it get as much attention?
I was invited to come out to Charlotte Motor Speedway this past Monday for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Foundation Day. It was my day off but I decided on a whim to stop by just to see what was going on. What I found was truly special.
Dale Jr. came to the track to raise money by doing ride alongs and meet-and-greets with fans who came from as far as Germany to take a ride along with him. The group included a doctor who pitched in $8,800 to charity to ride along, the head of an organization that raises money to feed hungry kids in the local area and Dillon, a young Make-A-Wish child, who got the surprise of his life from Dale that day.
Amy Laws is the wish director for the Make-A-Wish foundation. “Dillon is a local child,” she told me. “His one wish was to ride around in a race car with Dale Earnhardt Jr., which we all know is a very rare experience but one we were able to work with The Dale Jr. Foundation to make happen,” she said. “It’s something that’s so special. Dale Jr. has been an incredible friend to our foundation, not only providing incredible wishes to children but, in May, he actually granted his 200th wish to the Make-A-Wish Foundation on the national level. He’s one of only about a handful of people who have reached that level,” she said. “He really does put his money where his mouth is.”
Nine-year-old Dillon, the Make-A- Wish child, was star struck before he even met Dale. I asked him what he liked about the popular race car driver. “Mostly everything” he said. “I want to go at least 180 miles an hour,” he added. What are you going to do when you meet him?” I asked. “Probably goin’ to faint” Dillon said.
Stan Curtis is the founder of Blessings in a Backpack. Curtis told me how Dale Jr. provides children food in North Carolina at risk of not having any food on the weekends after they leave school on Fridays. “He packs backpacks with food in them and the kids take the backpacks home and have food over the weekend,” Curtis explained. He told me that one ride-along donation that day of $8,800 will feed 110 children for a whole school year. “Dale Jr., you know what he means?” Curtis asked. “He means a young generation of Americans who are standing up and being advocates for children,” said Curtis.
From Ontario, Canada, to Germany – came the fans who gathered to pitch in money and get a ride along from Dale. There was a young I-Racing winner and an 85-year-old man who just wanted to experience the thrill.
Rion Mariscal, from Rhode Island, won the ride through an I-racing contest. “I just want to feel the best adrenalin rush I can get,” he said before he climbed into the car with Dale Jr.. “I’ve been a fan of Dale’s since I started watching racing. My first race I went to was when I was13 days old.”
How much money did Dale, Jr. raise last Monday? His foundation folks say over $50,000 for an hour of Dale’s time.
Jr. Gives Dillon, with Make-A- Wish, his helmet
Dale Jr. got out of the car, after the final ride along of the day, this one with young Dillon. He leaned over, and handed Dillon his custom-made racing helmet, something that drivers rarely do.
Later, I asked Dillon about the experience. “It was really fun, 175 miles per hour!!” he said. “It was really, really fun. Was he nervous? “Just kinda, a little bit,” Dillon admitted. He said his friends at school would not believe him -so he was going to take the helmet to school to show them proof. “He said here, you can have this,” Dillon said about Dale giving the helmet to him. “He’s just got a big heart for kids.” What does he like about Dale? “Probably everything now,” he said. “I Hope they have a good time and they watch the race,” Dillon said about those who might hear of this story, adding, “Go Dale Earnhardt Jr.”
Charity contact information:
Check out the online donation program called the ‘Hard Card’ membership,that gives fans cool gifts when they donate to TDJF! That link is:
Claire B. ONE ON ONE WITH DALE JR – INCLUDING HIS OUTLOOK ON HIS RACING, CREW CHIEF AND OWNER.
I was surprised to be given some time after the ride alongs to talk with Dale Jr. one-on-one about the experience and about how he’s doing these days. Here’s a transcript of the interview that I had with him.
Claire B: What did you think about that ride with Dillon
Dale Jr.: “I enjoyed it. I think he obviously enjoyed it more than anybody else but I enjoy meeting kids like Dillon and giving them an opportunity to take home a lasting memory and I know that this is a special memory for him. Hopefully he got everything he expected out of it. We enjoyed spending time with Dillon and working with Make-A-Wish and putting our best foot forward with our foundation and being proactive and making a difference in as many peoples’ lives as we can.”
Claire B: One of the things I think is really cool is that you got out of the car and gave it to Dillon and that doesn’t happen very often. What made you decide to take your helmet off and give it to the kid, Dillon. It’s awesome.
Dale Jr.: “I don’t know, you know he just, we had plenty of outlets to get new helmets. That was one that that is that I raced and used for a year or two and then we were using it as a test helmet here this past season. So it was something he could take home and would be a memento to help him remember what he experienced today and something he can show his family and take home to his relatives to show them what he took away from this event.”
Claire B: It’s really people get to see you when you are not racing. One today guy paid $8,800 for Blessings In A Backpack. That’s a lot of pressure on a ride along – an $8,800 ride along. What do you think when you take people on a ride along for a great cause.
Dale Jr.: “Well, I enjoy getting people in the car and showing them what the race track is like and the g-forces and everything. You know it gives them a good idea, they have a better appreciation for what’s happening out on the race track and what’s going on in the races when they’re watching them. They’ll have a better understanding for what’s happening. It’s fun for me to give people that experience and to be involved in their experience you know that they are having going around the track.”
Claire B: Do you remember a ride along you took when you were a kid. You know where somebody plunked you in a car and you never forgot it. You were always around cars a lot.
Dale Jr.: “Yea. I rode in a lot of cars. I guess I went for a ride in Myrtle Beach with my father one time in a Nationwide car back when it was the Busch Series. But, you know that’s one that I probably never will forget. That was a lot of fun for me. Course I didn’t have a seat like Dillon had today so I was sliding around on the floor board.”
Claire B: Can I ask you how things are going these days? You have had some good qualifying efforts and that razzes up your fans and they call in like crazy (when you qualify well) and the qualifying seems to have stepped up a little:
Dale Jr.: “Yea we’ve learned a little bit. We went testing at Homestead for Goodyear and feel like – I think we found a little bit of speed for the qualifying package. We gotta figure out a way to translate it over into the race set up, though, and get that program moving forward a little better. We just got a few races left in the season we want to capitalize – put some good runs together.”
Claire B: Do you know what you need? I mean has anyone figured out a direction where you know…I mean people always say well I could make a million dollars if I knew the answer to that question.
Dale Jr.: “Yea, well we’re really searching really hard and trying a lot of new, non typical ideas to see if we can find some speed out of the car and see what happens.”
Claire B. What about Martinsville?
Dale Jr.: “I enjoy racing there. It’s a fun track. I like short tracks, beating and banging and trading paint and it’s a good place to get it done. Hopefully, we’ll get the car rolling in the center real fast and keep the forward bite in it all day long and have a good run.”
Claire B. What about here today – all the people that you met. Do you take home all the people that you run into? It’s such a short shot to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. but it’s a short shot for you to meet these people too.
Dale Jr.: “Yea, I met one of the fellows that we gave a ride to was from I-Racing. I’ll probably see him on line racing here over the winter time. So we swapped email addresses. Dillon has an open invitation to come visit us any time he wants. He’s a good kid and it’s fun to be around people like that got so much energy and enthusiasm for life like he does. He just enjoys being around race cars and maybe he’ll grow up to be a race car driver one day. Maybe this is a kick start for his career.”
Claire B: Also – People will say how is Dale doing? I know you’re struggling you guys are learning, you’re trying to communicate better; you’re pitching everything into it. When I come back they’ll be like how’s he doing, how did he look? What’s going on with him? Say something to your fans about how things are going (personally) with you.
Dale Jr.: “Well, we are struggling on the race track but our attitude is good and our personality and outlook is good for the future. I feel confident that things will cycle around and we’ll get back to where we need to be and will be more competitive as a race team. It’s been a tough year but we got a long ways to go before we’re going to give this thing up and we got a lot more we want to accomplish and I feel real sure we’ll get back there one day.”
Claire B – You want to stay with Rick Hendrick? There’s all these things floating around – about oh he leaves, and people have a dream team idea about you. Your fans do. That, oh if we just put him with this guy. But you and Lance (McGrew) and Rick (Hendrick) are you a team for a while where you are going to stick it out and figure it out?
Dale Jr.: “Well, I’m definitely dedicated to Rick – he’s been great to me. I’ve enjoyed working with Lance. I’ll just leave it in Rick’s hands as to what he wants to do. But, you know I believe in him obviously as an owner. My commitment’s 100% with him and what he feels is the best.”
Claire B: Recently Rick got on the radio and he gave you a compliment–said your communication was better. Is that something that is helping a lot?
Dale Jr.: “Well you try to communicate as good as you can. You know try to make it as easy as you can on the crew chief -try to decipher what he needs to do to the race car. The driver’s the only guy that can really do that. You give him the most information, and try to give it to him in a good honest and direct way.”
Claire B. What do you do for the rest of the day? Dale Jr. comes out on his day off. Mike Davis (PR person) says he doesn’t know if it’s really your day off cause you are working all the time. But, today’s your day off. What does Dale Jr. do now, when you leave Charlotte? What are you going to do?
Dale Jr.: “I’ll probably go over to JR Motorsports to sign some autographs. We got an autograph room full of stuff that still needs to get taken care of. Trying to get that done so maybe we’ll get over there and do some of that.”
Claire B. Well word to all your fans that you’re doing a good thing on your day off, raising a lot of money for your foundation, making a young boy happy with a big smile and giving him your helmet. It’s really awesome. Thanks for taking the time.
Dale Jr.. “Well, I hope you enjoyed it, you know. It’s all about Dillon and obviously those people that participated today. We raised a good amount of money in a short period of time for Make-A-Wish and hopefully Dillon takes a lot away from this experience and we can have more success with the Dale Junior Foundation in the future.”
Claire B. You got it have a great day.
Dale Jr.: “Thank you!”