Here was the question that Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had never considered before, and that made him pause the longest in our interview.
I asked him if his father Dale Earnhardt Sr. – a ninth-grade dropout, rough around the edges, politically incorrect and incredibly talented – could have ever gotten a job driving a race car given the corporate, smooth-talking, sponsor-schmoozing demands of a Monster Energy Cup driver today.
“That’s a good damn question,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve never been asked that question before.”
He then paused 10 seconds, thinking about it awhile longer, and then said this:
“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. 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.”