9th Biggest Story Of 2007 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leaves DEI

December 22, 2007 |

Even if you don’t follow NASCAR or auto racing, you’ve heard of Dale Earnhardt Jr., right? He’s easily one of the most famous athletes in the world today.

As he’s traveled the racing circuit across the country, he’s been greeted like a freakin’ rockstar at every stop. Whether it’s promotional endorsements for Budweiser, Wrangler, Drakkar Noir, Enterprise, Nabisco, Chevrolet and other commercial products, it’s hard to miss Dale Jr. In fact, he appears in more television commercials than any other athlete.

A primary factor in this fame is he’s the heir to “Earnhardt Nation” and following the tragic death of his father, he was really thrust into the spotlight. He’s done a formidable job and won a handful of races throughout his career. A mitigating factor is the guy just “embodies cool.” He’s dated his share of actresses and musicians, and he’s embraced the bachelor lifestyle. And, that sells ….. Corvettes, cold beer, jeans, cologne …..

However, he’s never really cracked that upper echelon of NASCAR performers. Although, he’s more popular than the guys that commonly occupy Victory Lane, he’s usually outperformed and left in the garage while Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson take home trophies. His opportunities have been diminished, as we’re told, by subpar equipment and limited technology. Well, that’s about to change …..

On May 10, 2007 ….. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rocked the NASCAR and sports worlds when he announced that he was leaving “Dale Earnhardt Incorporated,” the racing team his father founded and the only organization he’s called home. This is the 9th Biggest Story of 2007.

Although, Earnhardt Jr. “hit the ground running” with his father’s organization, things seemed to really go awry after the dust settled from Dale Sr.’s death The relationship between Dale Jr. and his stepmother, Teresa, has been “tumultuous,” at best. She’s had complete control over the race teams and her knowledge of racing technology has been rightfully questioned.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems Dale Jr. and Teresa Earnhardt have disagreed on virtually every issue. From merchandising ….. to contracts ….. to equipment and technology, they’ve rarely agreed. So, with his free agency looming at the end of the 2007 season, Dale Jr. made his move. He wanted majority stake of the corporation and sole discretion, in exchange for remaining with DEI. That wasn’t going to happen ….. and it didn’t.

Thus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the most notable free agent in the history of NASCAR. He was courted by virtually every race team. But, in the end he did what most “BIG TIME” baseball free agents do ….. he joined the Yankees ….. of NASCAR. By mid-summer, the decision was made and he was becoming a member of Hendrick Motorsports.

Joining this storied and arguably most successful race team in the history of NASCAR was a very big splash !!!! But, the honeymoon will be short-lived. As a teammate of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be expected to win and compete for championships. Being a “rockstar” won’t be enough.

With a new deal, came new sponsors. He’s now touting the Pepsi products, with Mountain Dew emblazoned on everything he drives or wears. It’s been reported that Pepsi is paying nearly DOUBLE the sponsorship funds allocated by Budweiser, as Earnhardt’s primary sponsor over the past several seasons. We’re talking several MILLION DOLLARS, per season.

I’m certain Pepsi is happy to be on the verge of selling more merchandise that any other sponsor ….. by leaps and bounds. But, don’t be misled ….. they want the #88 Chevrolet and Dale Jr. in Victory Lane. And, they want him competing for championships.

It’s been said that Earnhardt Jr. possesses the talent to rank among NASCAR’S elite. Well, we’re about to see. His style, both on and off the track, pales in comparison to his father’s. The elder Earnhardt was a candid dude off the track, and relentlessly aggressive on it. This aggression might have cost him his life.

Dale Jr. is much more polished in public acumen. And, he’s more “giving” on the track. Still, he’s carrying around that last name. And, greatness is expected of it. Then again, he’s not being forced to race. But, it’s what he is …..

This coming season will be a campaign that affords no more excuses. The time is NOW. And, maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make 2008’s “Biggest Sports Stories Of The Year.”

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