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In the Red by Jade Gurss


In-The-Red


This is an excerpt from the upcoming book, In the Red by Jade Gurss. The book is published by Octane Press, LLC of Austin, Texas and is scheduled for release in early 2012. The book will be available as a hardcover and eBook.

Pre-order the book directly from Octane at: http://octanepress.com/book/red

The following is the entirety of chapter eight from In the Red. The chapter gives a glimpse of the morning leading up to the 2001 Daytona 500. This excerpt is provided exclusively to the readers of the Dale Jr. Pit Stop website as a small "thank you" for the many years of support for Dale Jr. and my publicity efforts during "the Bud years."

This document is not to be reproduced or distributed in any manner beyond this website.

Thanks for reading!

jade.

Jade Gurss on Twitter


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chapter 8

the morning


Daytona Beach, Florida

It's hard to overstate the optimism and excitement that dawned on Sunday morning, February 18, 2001. This was the day of the 43rd annual Daytona 500.

The entire NASCAR community looks forward to the 500 as soon as the checkered flag falls on the final race of the previous season. Most Winston Cup races are two or three-day affairs, but as the season-opening race, the 500 is the dramatic climax of two weeks of preliminary events at Daytona International Speedway. It had surpassed the Indianapolis 500 as the most-watched American motorsports event, and offered the largest purse of any Winston Cup race. The winner would receive a check of more than $1.3 million dollars, and the total purse exceeded $11 million for the first time. The last place finisher would take home more than $111,000.

This 500 held the potential to be as special as any that had come before.

The new TV contract meant billions of dollars pumped into the sport over the next few seasons. Fox had promoted the race for months, especially during their NFL playoff coverage throughout January. Larger TV ratings promised to bring more new fans than ever before, which meant more sponsors for the teams, more ticket sales and more advertisers on the broadcasts. Each aspect fed on the other, making the future look as bright as the sun that shone through a blue, cloudless sky that February morning.

The contracts also represented the greatest mechanism for NASCAR to legitimately take its place as the fourth major American sport, and to be universally recognized as something more than a niche, regional sport. It had taken more than 50 years, but NASCAR was on the launch pad that morning, and everyone could feel the excitement building.

To humanize a sport which relied so heavily on machines, Fox focused much of its coverage that day to Dale Earnhardt. The larger-than-life icon with a blue collar work ethic embodied the American dream. From ramshackle dirt tracks to shiny board rooms, Earnhardt was a man many Americans aspired to emulate, and he had done it all without losing an ounce of his "everyman" appeal.

Earnhardt's son also presented an interesting tale, striving to become his own man, hoping to be defined by his actions rather than his name. He represented a younger, hipper and, more importantly, a more affluent audience. The American dream? There seemed nothing as red-whiteand- blue than his prescient dream he was going to win the Great American Race.

Almost nothing is routine about Speedweeks, but it was important that morning to follow the race day routine we had developed the year before.

Dale Jr's contract with Budweiser included a meet-and-greet before each Cup race. Sometimes it was a massive affair, with Junior taking questions on a stage in front of hundreds of Budweiser guests. Other times it was a more intimate setting in a luxury suite with 20 to 30 VIPs. No matter the forum, it was always scheduled 60 minutes prior to the mandatory NASCAR drivers meeting. Most Sundays, Dale Jr. would sleep as late as possible, ambling out of bed without a moment to spare.

The job of waking him usually fell to his motor coach driver, Shane Mueller, but it wasn't uncommon for me to draw the dreaded duty if it was critical that he be on time to meet highranking Budweiser executives or guests.

Junior usually slept in the spacious bedroom at the back of his million-dollar-plus luxury bus. Sometimes, after a particularly strenuous night of video gaming or movie watching, he would fall asleep on one of the long, dark couches in the front section of the coach. He never tired of chuckling when I would creep from the bright sunlight into the darkened coach to knock on the bedroom door - only to be startled out of my skin when he awoke from the couch behind me.

When Junior was ready to go, the logistics fell to Joe Glynn, who managed the at-track program for Bud. Glynn's duties ranged from managing the Budweiser Pole Award ceremonies to babysitting executives and orchestrating the massive undertaking of an appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales at the race track. With one of several golf carts painted to look like Junior's race car, it was Glynn's job to transport Dale Jr. in the smoothest manner possible. That meant scouting the location prior to raceday, devising the best route - even if it meant getting creative and occasionally sweetening a security guard with a hat or autograph card (or, ahem, a six-pack) to get through gates that were otherwise locked or blocked.

Getting Junior into the suites or hospitality village on race morning was usually smooth because we could slide in, quick and stealth-like, without too much hassle. Once the fans learned he was inside the suite or tent area, the crush was on. Fans would congregate in droves between the exit and the golf cart, hoping to catch an autograph. We usually had to rely upon security or lawenforcement officers to help get Junior back to his bus in one piece.

Because Dale Jr. had been in town for several weeks and had already made a number of Budrelated appearances in Daytona Beach, the meeting that morning was with a small, calm group and we were able to slip in and out without too much drama, other than a security guard briefly stopping Dale Jr. because he didn't have a credential or hard-card (a NASCAR season pass). Once he realized who he had stopped, the guard sheepishly allowed us to enter.

Up next was the drivers meeting.

Before his first 500 in 2000, Dale Jr. had worn a sharp new suede jacket to the meeting, only to have it ruined when the crush of autograph-seekers left large black streaks from out-stretched Sharpies and permanent markers. Lesson learned, he never again wore anything other than sponsor apparel to the meetings.

At Daytona, the meeting took place in the garage area. For the 500, it's always a crowded, lengthy affair as every celebrity and sponsor executive is introduced to a smattering of polite applause before NASCAR officials outline the rules and details about the day's race. The thousands not lucky enough to be allowed inside the meeting hover around the outside of the garage.

Before Speedweeks, a large, modern medical center had been built, adjacent to the motor coach lot. The new building meant the dingy old infield care center was now mostly empty. This provided a perfect opportunity for us to drive through a small gate there to sneak into the meeting undetected. The slick entrance seemed to be another example of everything falling into place this week for Junior.

Everything in NASCAR is a competition, and seating for the pre-race meeting is no different. Most of the time, Dale would save a seat for Junior, allowing him to sit in the front row alongside the champions, veteran drivers like Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett. Rookies and newcomers sit in the back while the big guns take the front, unless your dad is the alpha male.

Following the meeting, there was the usual rush to exit, but Big E and Junior hung back, waiting behind the others. Dale wrapped his arm around his son's neck, pulling him close with his trademark move. Even though Dale was not a large man, it was as if he could completely envelope anyone by slinging his arm around their neck to impart his wisdom, whether you wanted it or not.

This was their first conversation of the day, and the two talked quietly, forehead-to-forehead. As they walked slowly, the mass of people seemed to dissipate. It was clear the two Earnhardts were in their private moment and not available to sign autographs. Without a glance, the two drivers ignored a hapless radio reporter trying to get an interview, and walked arm in arm through the teeming garage area.

Dale Jr. had always idolized his father, and he relished the fact they were closer than ever before. For 26 years, he had struggled for his father's attention, affection and approval, and he was thrilled to finally have all three.

As a young boy, whether watching on television or playing with his toy cars while listening to the race on the radio, Junior's imagination put him in his dad's car for every lap. Following his father's races made him feel closer to the man who was physically and emotionally distant. While his dad and step-mom traveled the country, Dale Jr. and his sister Kelley were at home with the nanny. The hope for a closer bond with his father seemed an almost impossible wish to the youngster.

Dale Jr. struggled as an aimless teenager, floundering until being sent to a military boarding school for two years. As much as his father (a man who dropped out after the eighth grade) emphasized education, it hurt Junior deeply when his dad didn't attend his high school graduation.

After years of racing the local late model stock car circuit with no help - financial or otherwise - from his father, Dale Jr. finally began to receive more of his father's attention as he became a full-time, professional racer in 1998. Even then, it wasn't always easy.

The first time father and son raced each other was an exhibition event that year at the Twin Ring Motegi racetrack in Japan. (NASCAR staged exhibition races there in an attempt to lure Japanese sponsorship dollars to the sport.) With the backing of Coca-Cola, Dale Jr. entered the race in an old DEI chassis, and he was in ecstasy during the opening practice session. After years of constantly dreaming about racing with his dad, he was now on track with the Intimidator.

During the race, Dale Jr. made a dramatic pass on his father, which was followed by a rough Intimidator-style love tap as dad lifted the rear of Junior's car off the pavement. As the race neared an end, Tony Jr. and several of Dale Jr's crew somehow managed to sneak away with a fresh set of tires from the pit area of the No. 3. After a late pit stop, the fresh tires helped Junior beat his dad, finishing sixth to Big E's eight. Rather than laugh at the situation, the Intimidator responded by throwing one of his driving shoes at Dale Jr.

As Dale Jr. moved from the Busch Series to Winston Cup, their relationship became closer. His father seemed to mellow (somewhat) after his Daytona 500 win, and Dale Jr. achieved a level of skill and success that made him feel as if he had finally made his father proud. Each of Dale Jr's victories were meaningful, not because of the riches or fame, but because he could see such joy in his father's face.

Junior's father was his boss, landlord and team owner, a man whose hard-earned millions had built Dale Earnhardt Inc. after years of a monomaniacal pursuit of victories (and a savvy third wife). Dale Jr. so completely trusted his father on business matters, he had been driving for DEI since 1998 on barely more than a handshake. Junior's inexperience and disinterest with things as basic as paying his utility bills led to a free-and-easy kind of existence. He had breezed through life without wondering whether the glass was half-full or half-empty, asking only if the beer was cold.

Yet, in a world where less than 50 drivers make a living as Winston Cup driver, Dale Jr. had made it to the top with a combination of perseverance, raw talent and his famous name. He and his father were part of the very small fraternity, confidants at last. Only a few people understood the rush of relying completely on each of your senses while racing 42 other men at nearly 200 mph, or how it felt to crash at that speed, then bravely climb back into the car the very next week to try again. Fewer still knew the thrill of winning in the Cup Series. Yet, even among this tiny fraternity, it was difficult to share with your competitors and rivals. While some drivers were helpful, most were unlikely to confide in a young, inexperienced driver. Even though his father was slow to share his own secrets, Junior trusted his dad completely to guide his career in the right direction, providing him with a successful path for the future.

After a lifetime of trying, Dale Jr. and his father had finally landed on common ground, and they walked together as peers into the driver's motorcoach lot.

"We're gonna work together to win this thing," Big E insisted before angling to his bus (predictably parked in the best locale, closest to the garage area). "You've got the fastest car out there, so take care of it. But we need to work together to get it done."

Although he had been cool and calm for weeks, Junior exuded nervous energy as he changed into his red and black driver's uniform. An hour before driver introductions, Junior grabbed a quick lunch. Someone from NASCAR had indicated actress Neve Campbell, a sultry brunette, would be at the track and wanted to meet Dale Jr. The minutes ticked away with no sign of Campbell.

His lunch finished, Junior fired up his laptop and began playing the NASCAR 4 computer game. To make things interesting, he offered $100 to Shane or me if we could drive a single lap around the digital Daytona without spinning or crashing. The catch? Junior would prepare the game settings to be as close to reality as possible, including fresh, cold tires that simply do not want to grip the pavement.

Shane slowly crept toward turn one before he slid off the track. To Junior's delight, I began by immediately spinning into the wall on the pit lane. Several more tries for both of us prove futile.

"I tell ya, that's what it's really like on new tires. It's like ice," Junior laughed as he shooed the amateurs away from the laptop. "That's real as hell. It's just like that!"

With Junior at the wheel, the game looked effortless as he ripped off fast, clean laps. He was focused and ready.

Meanwhile, his father was lounging outside his motorcoach, feet propped up. Already wearing his uniform, Big E looked relaxed, as if he were preparing to watch the race from his easy chair. During the Fox pre-race show, Matt Yocum stopped by for a quick interview.

"I think it's gonna be exciting. Exciting racing," Earnhardt told Yocum as he broke out into a huge mustached grin. "You're gonna see somethin' you probably haven't ever seen on Fox."

When driver introductions were near, we took advantage of our secret side entrance into the garage area, and before the fans realized who it was, we were already on pit lane. Protected from the masses by the pit wall and a long line of uniformed officers, Dale Jr. quietly walked toward a large, portable stage on pit lane.

With one arm already wrapped around Teresa, Big E wrapped another around Junior as soon as he arrived. The three talked quietly before each driver was introduced to the crowd of more than 160,000 spectators.

As his name was called, Junior waved to the crowd as he walked across the stage, then strode in a determined line toward his race car. The red machine had been stationed silently on pit lane in its grid position for several hours. Dale Jr. would start sixth, on the outside of the third row.

Junior looked calm and collected, but a nervous twitch of a foot indicated otherwise as he leaned against his car, quietly talking to the crew while the pre-race hoopla continued around him.

In the Fox booth, Darrell Waltrip was in the midst of the first major broadcast of his new life. The three-time champion had retired as a driver at the end of 2000 and was beginning his new career as a NASCAR analyst. Waltrip's wife Stevie was on the grid, looking for Earnhardt. A deeply religious woman, she had developed a strong relationship with Dale, and for several seasons had given him a Bible verse before each race. She handed Dale a card quoting the 10th verse from the 18th chapter of Proverbs, which read "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."

On the way to his black No. 3 car, Dale stopped to talk with Kyle Petty, who had qualified in the 28th position. Petty was racing the No. 45 car in honor of his son Adam, who had been killed in a practice crash the year before at Loudon, NH. The two shared a heartfelt father-to-father chat and an embrace before Dale walked to the red No. 8 car.

Dale wrapped his arms around Dale Jr. and Teresa for a few moments.

"You've got a car that can win," Dad told him. "Just take care of it. Be careful out there."


2011 Jade Gurss/ fingerprint inc.

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I'd like to thank Jade for giving me the opportunity to exclusively share this excerpt with the fans, it's greatly appreciated.

Thank you, Jade!

Jim
dalejrpitstop.com
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