Dale Jr. to Leave Sr.s Legacy

by : Lauren Woods

In 1996, legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. created the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) to compete in NASCAR-sanctioned races. In 1998, Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 8 car of the team at the NASCAR Busch Series where he won the championship for two consecutive years - 1998 and 1999. Currently Dale Jr. is racing at the 2007 Nextel Cup Series for the team that his late father started. The next season though will see Dale Junior racing for another team if he pushes through with his announced plan to leave DEI. Junior's departure came after he failed to wrest the ownership of the team away from his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt.

In a recent press conference Dale Junior announced his decision to leave DEI pointing out his relationship with her stepmother as a cause. "We weren't really close with what they had in mind," says Dale Junior. "We decided it was time for us to move on and seek other opportunities for 2008," he continued in the press conference broadcasted from his JR Motorsports racing shop located in Mooresville, North California. This team is being speculated to be where Dale Jr. will be racing for the next season.

The decision to leave the organization becomes even more interesting since his contract to DEI will expire after this season. This announcement has led racing enthusiasts to speculate where Dale Jr. will go from here.

Although there are talks that he might race for the team his father raced for, he maintained that he is still undecided as of the moment. "We'll see who wants to hire me," said Dale Jr. "I don't ever want to make this decision, or change, again. I want to drive for a long time, and I want to be successful at doing it," he stressed.

Meanwhile, his sponsor Budweiser is expected to follow Dale Jr. wherever he goes for the next season. The company though is yet to confirm or deny the said speculations. Instead, the company's vice-president Tony Ponturo maintained that they will still have to talk with Dale Jr. before making a decision. "Budweiser and JR Motorsports have an agreement in place to ensure Dale Jr. will continue to personally represent Budweiser through 2008, and we look forward to discussing our future with Dale Jr. and DEI in the weeks ahead,'' said Ponturo in an e-mailed statement.

Junior's popularity is unquestionable and DEI's compromise to let him go is a decision many frowned at. For the last four years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is voted as the most popular NASCAR driver by fans. For his popularity, Budweiser has received major exposure in sponsoring Dale Jr. and his No. 8 car with power comparable to a high performance engine equipped with system. A research conducted by Joyce Julius and Associates estimated Budweiser to have received $68.8 million worth of exposure in just the first eight races of the Nextel Cup Series. This exposure is based on the number of times the Budweiser logo appears during a race more prominently on Junior's No. 8 car. This is seen as a possible reason for Budweiser to go with Dale Junior wherever he might go for the next season.

The fact that Earnhardt wanted to control the organization and his stepmother not letting it happen is seen as a bitter pill for the most popular driver. Late last year, Teresa made comments in an interview which questioned Dale Junior's commitment to the sport. This statement from Teresa sparked a feud between her and Dale Jr. On the other hand, Dale Jr. and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge complained about the way the team is being run by Teresa. The team's inability to win a championship is also blamed at the ineffectiveness of Teresa in running the company.

After Dale Jr.'s decision to leave the team, Teresa has this to say: "While we are very disappointed that Dale Jr. has chosen to leave the family business, we remain excited about our company's future. Our aggressive expansion and diversification plans have not changed. This company has continued to thrive since Dale left us in 2001, and it will thrive following today's announcement. Dale and I built this company to be a championship-contender, and those principles still apply. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. will win, and we have other extremely talented drivers and hundreds of employees that are dedicated to the programs we founded. This company has a great legacy and a bright future, built on loyalty, integrity, and commitment."

As to how the team will fare after Dale Jr. departs, experts in the sports agreed that the team will get on well. Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports marketing company expressed his opinion as to where DEI will go for the next season without Dale Jr. "DEI is a known quantity, they're not going anywhere," Ganis said. "It's going to be odd not having the son of the founder staying with that team. I see a lot of questions about that. They'll continue to be one of the major racing teams," he added further.

How Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s leaving DEI will affect the team will be seen next season. Meanwhile, the auto racing community is anticipating where Jr. will go. There are still a lot of questions that needs to be answered and hopefully answers will come shortly.