DALE EARNHARDT JR.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
The son of the Intimidator started speeding as a teenager and never looked back, but he says he's learned a thing or two about driving from hitting some hard objects. Now, about his own nickname....
DAN PATRICK:What was your first car?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: 1988 [Chevy] S-10 short-bed 4 √ó 4 pickup truck.
DP:First fast car?
DE: Probably a 1999 Corvette that Chevrolet gave me for winning the Nationwide Tour.
DP:Did you get pulled over a lot in the Corvette?
DE: I got pulled over in the S10 more often. From the time I was 16 to 18, I was speeding everywhere. The first two years it was hammer down.
DP:What was it like telling your dad after you got your first ticket?
DE: I got my first ticket leaving the farm. Dad was following me home. We had just had an argument about something—I can't remember what—but I'm hauling ass home. I got about two miles from the farm, and I passed a state trooper and saw his brake lights. I just went ahead and pulled over and waited on him. The state trooper is writing me a ticket, and Dad drives by. I see Dad, and he says, "Did he write you a ticket?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Looks like you need to get a job." I went to the gas station up the road from the house and worked there for several months to pay for the ticket.
DP:You're turning 40.
DE: Yeah, but I feel 30.
DP:You don't look 40. Where did the years go?
DE: Something happened. I don't know. I've been in some kind of time warp.
DP:Are you a better driver now than you were at 30?
DE: I think so. There are little things you understand about patience. The real technical aspects of how to handle a car and drive it through a corner. When you're a rookie, you drive on guts. You don't fear anything. We always talk about guys who are superfast, and we say, "He hasn't hit anything hard yet."
DP:These road races seem to bother you.
DE: It's a sour-grapes kind of thing. I grew up wanting to race short tracks. I didn't care about road races. I never wanted to road race. But there's these two pesky little road races in our schedule, and I have to do them.
DP:When's the last time someone called you Junebug?
DE: I think Darrell Waltrip calls me that every weekend.
DP:How was that nickname growing up?
DE: It wasn't that bad when I was a kid. But I've outgrown it quite a bit. I'm still a kid in Darrell's eyes, I guess.
DP:Can you tell Darrell to stop?
DE: I don't give him a hard time about it. He's earned it. He's one of my elders I have to respect.
Mark Messier told me he knew Wayne Gretzky was better than he was when they were nine-year-old competitors in Ontario: "I asked my dad, 'Do you think Wayne Gretzky's better than me?' He hemmed, hawed and finally said, 'What time is practice, anyway?'" ... TNT's Kenny Smith weighed in on Rashad McCants's allegations of academic misconduct at his alma mater, UNC: "When I heard Rashad McCants was supposedly getting grades because he was a good player, I was like, I was 10 times a better player than that guy, and they never gave me one grade. That guy couldn't tie my shoelaces." ... Kevin Costner told me he had an issue with one of the most famous lines in Field of Dreams: "I almost didn't say, 'Do you wanna have a catch?' When I played with my dad on the West Coast, we said, 'Do you want to play catch?' I said to the director, 'I've never said it like that.'"
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
JAMIE SQUIRE/NASCAR/GETTY IMAGES (EARNHARDT)
AP FOR LEVERAGE AGENCY (MESSIER)
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SMITH)
MICHAEL BUCKNER/GETTY IMAGES (COSTNER)