The Frontstretch: DEI's Impossible Dream by Amy Henderson -- Thursday February 8, 2007

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DEI's Impossible Dream

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday February 8, 2007


Sometimes there are no easy answers to impossible situations. Sometimes there is no clear cut truth. Sometimes things don't go according to plan.

Such appears to be the case within the walls of Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated. When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. told the racing world on Wednesday that he wants majority interest in DEI, it brought to a head a contract-and life-dispute that has likely been brewing far longer than most of us know. Six years after the death of Dale Earnhardt, the empire is as big as it ever was-three Nextel Cup entries in the stable, the most popular driver in Dale Jr., the race results improving every week of the last season. But has DEI traveled the road that Earnhardt had envisioned?

In some ways, clearly it has. Earnhardt Jr. contended for a championship in 2004 and 2006 before settling for top five points finishes. As Junior matures, he only gets better. He's likeable and marketable. In every way, it appears, Earnhardt Jr. is more than worthy of the legacy that has been thrust upon him. Not only can he drive and have a good time doing it, but he has an eye for young talent. Martin Truex Jr.'s two Busch Series championships and a solid if unspectacular rookie season have more than repaid Earnhardt Jr.'s faith in his ability to get the job done. Paul Menard has improved by leaps and bounds over the last two seasons and earned his spot. For all intents and purposes, DEI is on the brink.

Behind the scenes, though, it appears as if the winds of change have been fierce and indiscriminate. Earnhardt's vision has been clouded by decisions that were not, perhaps, decisions he would have made. The departures of drivers Steve Park and Kenny Wallace likely never would have occurred, at least not in the manner they finally did. DEI's dominance on the restrictor plate tracks has waned, and the organization dropped from three cars that contended for victory week in and week out (all three DEI cars saw victory lane in 2001; it has not happened again since) to two that were struggling to catch up with the curve. 2006 saw signs of an upswing on the track, but off it now looks to be a completely different story.

Contract negotiations between DEI (owned in it's entirety by Earnhardt's widow, Teresa) and Earnhardt Jr. have been, at times tumultuous. Teresa Earnhardt fired the proverbial shot across the bow when she openly questioned Earnhardt Jr.'s commitment, telling the press that he needed to "decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality.”

Earnhardt, Jr., whose contract to drive for his father's team ends after the 2007 season, has repeatedly said that he wants to have a stake in the family business beyond that of employee. He upped the ante this week when he told the racing world that he wanted majority ownership in the company. The main factor is the ownership part,” Earnhardt, Jr. says. “It has nothing to do with money and nothing else really. I would really like my team, I like how things are going. ... The motors are improving, everything is on an upswing. My father has been gone for almost six years now, I want majority ownership.”

Hence the impossible situation. This is about more than money or a title. It's about one of the richest legacies in racing and what it should and will become in the future. The company was left to Teresa Earnhardt, but it was meant for all four of Earnhardt's children to have a part of, should they choose to do so. Perhaps the thing to do is offer Junior 25%, with the understanding that his brother and sisters will also have matching interest in the future. Perhaps Junior should have what he is asking for-he kept the organization afloat with his popularity and marketability when they had only two marginally competitive cars. He bears his father's name, but also his desire for DEI to contend for championships, with or without Junior behind the wheel. Teresa helped build the empire and is responsible for much of its financial prosperity. Either way, someone loses, and Dale Earnhardt's vision fades a little more.

The impossible truth is that DEI has followed a different path than what was perhaps envisioned years ago. Earnhardt Jr. doesn't want to own any other team-only the one his father built for him. Ironically, should he choose to step away, he could very lileky step into the very car his father drove, the car that made Earnhard a legend and DEI possible. If Teresa Earnhardt shares control of the company with her stepson, the company could lose her valuable business insight, the insight that built DEI from name only into the biggest name in NASCAR. On the other hand, in a way, it is also Earnhardt Jr.'s name on the marquee. He was the heir apparent on and off the track.

Sometimes there are no easy answers to impossible situations. Sometimes it is best to hope that somewhere along the line, the right dreams and visions come to fruition.

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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Heath Beichner
02/09/2007 06:25 AM

I agree with Jr., but If he doesn’t get controlling interest in DEI, who wouldn’t want to see him in the 3? I just don’t think Happy Harvick is really ready for Jr. to be his teammate. That will definately put him out of the spotlight. Might make Childress even more dominate.

bob hotton
02/09/2007 06:50 AM

Junior needs to grow up and earn his own company.Dale sr. earned 7 championships how many does jr have? Jr wouldn’t be trying to pull this stunt off if his father was alive.

Phil McGuire
02/09/2007 07:15 AM

bob hotton speaks like a true Jeff Gordon fan. The one thing he is right about is that if his father was alive Jr. wouldn’t be doing this. If the old man was alive Jr. wouldn’t be the most popular driver in the sport.

Dan Dugger
02/09/2007 07:51 AM

I think one needs to remember that Jr. has stated that he would buy into the company as well as negotiate for the control. Also, with majority ownership comes much responsibilty. He will have to share in the gains and the losses on all fronts. If things don’t work, he will have to be held accountable. These areas and many more go along with partenership.

02/09/2007 09:07 AM

If Dale were still here there wouldn’t be an issue and Jr. would probably still be racing with a “hand shake” contract. Dale said many times that DEI was for his kids. Does Jr. have to be like Prince Charles and wait for the Queen to die to become King?

abe browne
02/09/2007 11:53 AM

Jr is another driver who should own his own Cup team or offer to buy DEI. Teresa could sell off or seek other owners/partners if Jr. leaves. There are other deep pockets looking to getting into Nascar. A gradual ownership position based on incentives such as Championships, races won, poles, etc. would be a better approach than demanding immediate ownership rights. This is a business first owned by Teresa Earnhardt with a fixed value.

M. B. Voelker
02/09/2007 12:47 PM

If Jr. wants to buy controlling interest in DEI that’s fine with me. But if he thinks he should be given a majority share while Big E’s other 3 kids get nothing then IMO he’s completely out of line.

02/09/2007 12:57 PM

You know, I have respected Teressa’s commitment to keeping Dale Sr.‘s dream alive for the last several years, and I do feel that Dale Sr.‘s dream was to have his kids involved at DEI, I also feel that DEI would not be where it is now if it wasn’t for jr, and he is a big part of DEI, So maybe a deal would be Teressa keeps the marketing aspects, and Jr. takes over racing operations, I see a Win-Win in this respect, Jr would be able to concentrate on the racing teams, and Teressa could focus on the marketing, and all the other area’s that seemed to have taken her attentions away from what DEI was biult around Racing…

Frank G.
02/09/2007 02:29 PM

Remember, Dale Sr. owned his own race team and drove for another. He understood that it wasn’t good to drive for your own team. Jr’s best to wait – it’ll be there when the times right.

02/10/2007 12:05 AM

Teresa Earnhardt should fire Dale Jr. He is a spoiled little brat who lets his sister fill his head with a lot of hot air. Rumor has it from multiple DEI employees that Teresa is now seeing John Menard who is worth 5.9 BILLION dollars. Dale Jr.‘s $worth$ is only a bag of peanuts.

02/10/2007 12:30 AM

I think Jr’s not just doing this for himself. Sure, Teresa is a big part of why DEI is so successful, but, as someone else said here, Sr. built DEI for his kids, and they are not involved in any way other than with Dale Jr.

I think this is a very valid point; If Jr gets majority ownership, whether by buying in or whatever, I think he’s wanting it for himself AND his siblings.


don runnells
02/10/2007 06:14 AM

Just when exactly did jr become such a respected business man?, He can’t even keep from fighting with his own crew just about every week of his career so far..While DEI has grown by leaps & bounds under Teresa…Maybe junior could try to win 3-4 races in one year before he demands somebody hand over a billion dollar business just because he feels he deserves it…Hes nowhere close to his dad in racing skills or business skills…

02/10/2007 11:04 AM

Nice article, Amy! It’s amazing how such a thoughtful article can provoke such shallow and dumb comments from some but that’s life in a free society. Keep up the good work.

02/10/2007 04:48 PM

I’m not sure Jr. is ready for ownership of DEI. However, I don’t believe Teresa had done what Sr. had in mind and wanted to do with DEI. In a perfect world, they could be partners. Reality is that it apparently can’t happen. I do believe Jr. would protect Kelly and Kerry as I’m sure Teresa would Taylor. DEI was intended for Jr. to control in the future, at least that is what I seem to remember Sr. saying at some point. Jr. in the 3 car could be awesome. Racing hasn’t been the same since 2/18/01.

02/12/2007 12:15 PM


It’s nice to read EVERYone agrees!


02/12/2007 06:22 PM

And, by the way,.............

If Teresa has a mind for the business, how could she make a statement like, he (Dale Jr.) needs, “to decide whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality.” ???


Is it really a matter of what he “wants” to be, or is it more about what he IS? Hey Teresa!
Listen up!

Your step-son is
B O T H.
Would you REALLY rather he and/or the fans decide he be just another driver?

Dale Earnhardt, voted the most popular driver, IS also a “public personality” as well as a driver. Great for marketing too, ya reckon?

By being ALL that he can be, he generates big bucks for D.E.I.
Geeze, Louise! Attend a few races now and then, Teresa! Listen to his fans cheer from the stands as well as from out here in TV land.

Wake up and smell the Budweiser brewing, already.

What you (Teresa) need to decide is, whether YOU want to be a step-mom, or the head of D.E.I. A RACING organization. Which, by the way, ain’t non-profit.
(As long as Little E is in the stable)

That’s my opinion.
For whatever it’s worth.
And, if every Lilly fan sends me two-cents for said opinion, I’ll be a wealthy Lilly fan.
Yes I will!

I’ll be stationed at my mail box.
I’ll bring a lunch.
I know it could take awhile for my snail mail to arrive.



Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.