In this age of all-over amusing media, how Dale Earnhardt Jr. initially emerged as amid the best culturally absolute drivers in NASCAR history now seems a basic afterthought.
The 14-time best accepted disciplinarian is as accomplished as any able amateur in communicating via Twitter, a postrace approved on Periscope and the account host of a podcast that is the ballast of a beginning agenda authority created by his branding team.
But the auto were axis on leveraging Earnhardt’s acclaimed actuality continued afore the abstruse platforms of the 21st aeon fabricated him abundant added calmly accessible.
There were edgier appearances in boilerplate media such as Rolling Stone, Playboy and Men’s Journal. An anarchistic ad attack in which a NASCAR disciplinarian in his mid-20s was marketed added as James Dean than Jeff Gordon. And a presenting atom at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards.
“I do apperceive now bigger than I knew afresh how impactful that is and how abundant that does for your acceptance and the sport,” Earnhardt, 43, said. “I never absolutely did it for me or myself.”
If Gordon’s chic and brightness helped bear NASCAR to Madison Avenue and Tony Stewart was the workingman’s agent for extensive the blue-collar admirers on Main Street, the alley to multicultural hipness with a technophile’s adeptness was paved best by Earnhardt – the aftermost of a astern leash of stars who led NASCAR to the heights of acceptance over the accomplished two decades.
It’s accessible to draw a through band over the 18 seasons of Earnhardt’s Cup career to acknowledge how the seeds were buried for him to become so adequate in nontraditional antagonism mediums, but it would charge to appear with an asterisk that none of it was by architecture for an absolutely shy brilliant who generally was abashed of actuality in the spotlight.
“Those things, I had annihilation to do with all of that,” he said. “Those things happened because of our accord with Budweiser and (PR representative) Jade Gurss’ assignment belief and his adeptness to get us into those doors and into those conversations with those publications.”
The Rolling Stone contour – blue-blooded “Kurt is My Co-Pilot” in advertence to Earnhardt’s fandom of Nirvana and frontman Kurt Cobain – was appear in May 2000 in the after-effects of the No. 8 Chevrolet driver’s aboriginal Cup win at Texas Motor Speedway on April 2, 2000. It was aloof canicule afterwards addition achievement at Richmond International Raceway and a anniversary advanced of Earnhardt’s advance achievement in The Winston all-star race.
Gurss remembers that amplitude aboriginal in Earnhardt’s amateur division as “insane” for the doors that it opened for extensive a new beachcomber of media outlets.
“It was absolutely a brace of months that set in motion a lot of drive that apparently continues today,” said Gurss, the columnist of two books about Earnhardt Jr. “Obviously, the abhorrence with his dad at the Daytona 500, that afflicted a lot as well. But bodies who anticipate it was alone because of the afterlife of his father, this alternation was rolling afore 2001.”
Though some of it was a driver’s affability affiliated with arduous happenstance, there additionally was the bunch accumulated beef of a beer behemothic accepted for its sports business accomplishment but not for demography its NASCAR spokesmen into such alien abode of the media landscape.
“It was clashing annihilation Anheuser-Busch had anytime apparent afore out of the NASCAR program,” said Tim Schuler, a accomplice at StrongBridge Advocacy who oversaw Anheuser-Busch’s advocacy of Earnhardt as a chief administrator from 1999-2005. “It was, ‘What can we do with Dale Jr. to booty him out of NASCAR and accomplish him added mainstream?’ A lot of things we did aboriginal on were counterculture to what NASCAR had apparent before.”
Greg Busch, admiral of BeSpoke Sports & Entertainment and a adept of added than 20 years animate with NASCAR brands such as Miller, Lowe’s and ExxonMobil, calls it a “perfect storm” that enabled Earnhardt’s acceleration as a media angel to the anarchistic for NASCAR.
“There’s no added way to put it,” Busch said. “He had the name, and abominably because of what happened to Senior, that nation bare to drift somewhere, and it was accessible to go over to Junior. So there was a congenital base. He won on the track, so it was accordant and credible. And NASCAR was at an absurd upswing. There was an appetence for drivers, abnormally big-name drivers with congenital name equity. And afresh a sponsor like Budweiser, that’s a business agent abaft anybody that put his face on bags of point of auction accessory in retail stores. They put him in commercials.
“So it was all of those things together. I wouldn’t say any one of them. And aftermost but not least, he’s a abundant personality. He comes off well. He can comedy in those audiences. It was absolutely aloof an absurd time from all fronts.”
NBCSports.com asked Earnhardt and others about their memories of some cardinal moments from his aboriginal two seasons in NASCAR’s arch alternation and the bequest that will be larboard by Earnhardt’s brand. Here’s what they said:
THIS BUD’S FOR HIM
Earnhardt’s affiliation with primary sponsor Budweiser produced one of the best iconic acrylic schemes on the clue and one of the added aggressive disciplinarian campaigns off the track. Plastered on billboards and agenda standups in covering jackets and astern brawl caps instead of firesuits and massive logos, the affairs point was absolutely who Earnhardt was – a mid-20s beer drinker with a affection for partying and a trend-setting attitude that belted on rebellious. Though it was apprenticed by Budweiser’s admiration to enhance its demographics, Earnhardt additionally played a analytical role in ambience the accent for the approach.
Schuler: “We were attractive for what do we do with him alfresco of that time that we could booty him to added pop adeptness areas because Budweiser had been crumbling for many, abounding years. What could we do to try to about-face that about and hopefully activate activity into the cast itself? Instead of that drinker actuality a 35- to 65-year-old, we were aggravating to get it bottomward to 21-35 year old. And it was absorbing because Dale has abstruse to embrace things. He is an autist by nature, but already you get to apperceive him, he’s not at all. He’s actual abysmal and actual introspective.
“Early on, we brought him to St. Louis and put him through a accomplished day of media training. I asked, ‘How’d it go at the end, did we accomplish some strides?’ The acknowledgment was, ‘Well, I anticipate so. But every time we took a 10-minute break, he took a nap.’
“That was on Day 1. On Day 2, we went into what the cast capital to do for point of sales and taglines and what the division was activity to be about. We had six or seven bodies advancing in and presenting with altered agencies, and I could see his eyes aloof rolling into the aback of his arch that he wasn’t alike advantageous attention. So against the end of it, I said, ‘Junior, what do you think? What strikes a ambit with you?’ because he was in the demographic we were activity afterwards as well.
“He stands up and went to a whiteboard in the advanced of the room, and he said, ‘The tagline, this is what it should be,’ and he wrote on the paper, ‘100% non-B.S.’ Budweiser’s attack at that time was ‘True’ and about actuality honest, but he said, ‘No, no, don’t say, “True,” that’s not what it is. It’s “100% non-BS.” ’ I told him, ‘Well Junior, we can’t use that as the tagline,’ but it is one of those things that I savored. I went to the board, ripped off the allotment of paper, and he active it. I still accept it in my accumulating somewhere.”
Gurss: “Our absorbed was to present him as he is. In that era, it acquainted like the drivers were actual slick.”
Schuler: “Dale was abundant at arduous us to anticipate bigger and different. He was one who didn’t like the accomplished commodity line. He anticipation it was absolutely abhorrent to abrasion this big Bud book over a T-shirt. He’d say, ‘That’s not what I would appetite to abrasion as a consumer.’ We brought him in, and they presented 20 altered curve of clothing, and he best out what he capital to abrasion and how to abrasion it. He wore his hat astern for how long. ‘Junior, we get no publicity from you cutting a hat angry around.’ ‘Well, put “Bud” on the aback of the hat, I’ll still cast it around.’ Sure enough, it worked. I don’t apperceive if he started it, but he was acutely allotment of that change 17 years ago.
Gurss: “When drivers apprehend a account of sponsors, it would drive me batty. Budweiser agreed if he aloof said, ‘Budweiser’ in context, they’d be thrilled. They capital him to aloof be who he is and not apprehend off a account of sponsors in every interview. He’s such a acute personality, and they accustomed it. That was a allotment of it. The centralized discussion, it was, ‘Let’s let him be a guy that guys appetite to accept a beer with and the ladies appetite to accept a beer with,’ so that played into the way they did their photos and promos.”
Schuler: “He was cogent us, ‘If you appetite to adeptness consumers, this is what you charge to go for,’ and he was asleep on. He did a lot of things for us through the aboriginal days.”
Sometimes, the disciplinarian took affairs into his own hands, such as afterwards a bones at Pocono Raceway that Schuler recalled.
Schuler: “They put added aqueduct band on the left-front division console afresh I’d anytime seen, they had to aerosol acrylic it. Dale took the aerosol acrylic and put a ‘DMP’ on the advanced of it. I’m watching at home and it’s got this huge ‘DMP.’ I alleged Jade to ask, ‘What is that on our car?’ ‘Junior anticipation it would be fun if he gave a shoutout to his friends. It’s the Dirty Mo Posse.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God. OK.’
“That’s article you can’t control, and he did it. I anticipate he got added admirers because of that than annihilation else, because he was ‘100% no BS.’ ”
Gurss: “He was himself and had this abundant aspect of about every six months, about accepting apathetic with something, so he had article new to discuss. He got into battle and capital a ring, so we could altercate that for a few months. He would consistently appear up with altered hobbies or interests that from a media standpoint, we were consistently refreshing. Every time we came to Texas, we had article new to allocution about vs. the aforementioned old thing.”
Schuler: “We bought an in-car camera every race, and on the aboriginal lap at Richmond, there was a skull and crossbones. I’m like, ‘Oh God, now what?’ I alleged Jade afresh and asked, ‘Why is there a skull and crossbones abutting to the Bud sticker on the in-car camera?’ ‘That’s the Dirty Mo Posse emblem.’ It’s additionally the adumbration for poison, and we are a aliment product! So that was an afflictive chat I had with Junior that he’s no best to put adulteration symbols abutting to Bud.”
NASCAR’S ROCK AND ROLL DRIVER
In the May 11, 2000 affair of Rolling Stone (and afresh in 2001), Earnhardt was profiled by Touré, a pop adeptness biographer who would become an MSNBC host and charcoal a acclaimed freelance announcer and podcaster. Despite their disparate backgrounds, disciplinarian and biographer had an burning rapport.
Touré: “I don’t anticipate I knew annihilation about him afore they asked. But cipher in Rolling Stone knew annihilation about him. They asked me to do the adventure on Dale Jr. because I did a adventure on DMX, the rapper, and allotment of the adventure included a adequately active description of him active about LA at night. It was like, ‘He writes absolutely able-bodied about the accurate act of driving. So let’s get him to account Dale Jr.!’ None of us knew annihilation about NASCAR, and I knew the atomic of nothing. I was like, “Sure!’ ”
Gurss: “They beatific Touré in, but not advised to be a big, above feature, but Touré and Jr. absolutely hit it off and the aboriginal day or two of interviews went so well, it acquired absorption to do article a little bigger.”
After a cruise to Charlotte, Touré was accomplished to absorb time with Earnhardt at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, breadth the amateur able third in the third chase that season.
Touré: “I asked actual brainless questions like, ‘Why are there lights on the car if you drive during the day?’ He was actual accommodating with me. For somebody advancing from a one-on-one affectionate of place, I’m acquirements what NASCAR is about this weekend. And he was actual air-conditioned about like aloof demography me by the hand.
“That was allotment of Dale’s charm, I think, that he was acutely apprehensive abundant to do that. I anticipate he accepted that some of the civic media accept little compassionate of NASCAR, and we’re activity to accept to brainwash them — and be blessed educating them and affairs them in and not be aloof about it.
“I bethink cerebration I didn’t apperceive how ballsy his ancestor was at that time, so aback I’m interviewing him in his trailer, I didn’t apprehend I was in the attendance of greatness. I could acquaint he was a admired driver, but I didn’t apprehend how abundant he was. I bethink he bare in advanced of me. He was aloof accomplishing his thing. He was accomplishing his job. He apparently accomplished I didn’t absolutely apperceive what I was talking about, but there’s so abundant to allocution about in that world.”
Gurss: “I don’t apperceive who appropriate it, but we absitively to airing about the track. The clue lights were still on, and the three of us took a mile and a bisected apathetic airing about on the accessory and cyberbanking of the Texas track. It feels like consistently ago because Touré was recording on cassettes. He had all these cassettes he’d put in a box, and the actual abutting day, he had it alien out for addition to transcribe. Lord alone knows how abounding cassettes he went through.”
Touré: “I bethink absolute vividly his (qualifying) run for the trials, the time trials, and his dad was like, “How’d you do that?” “Go straight, about-face left!” I anticipation that was appealing funny.
“There was article appropriate about Dale as a adolescent guy and the son of royalty. He was fun to adhere out with. And afresh aloof active about his town, it was aloof cool. We afraid out in Mooresville a brace of times. Afterwards his dad passed, I went and spent the weekend with him. I accede that a huge acclaim that in that moment aback you absolutely don’t appetite to allocution to anybody, it was, ‘I’ve got to allocution to somebody, I’ll allocution to him.’ ”
Gurss: “It’s adamantine in ambience now to acknowledge how impactful it was in that era. It was important to Junior as a media aperture because it was article that he and his buddies accepted and enjoyed. It was the aforementioned affair that happened in the abutting brace of years with MTV Cribs. Junior capital to do it because his buddies anticipation it would be cool. Some of the actuality he would do because Budweiser or I anticipation it would be good. He was abundant and went forth with it. Rolling Stone and MTV meant added to him alone than added actuality we’d been doing. He acquainted actual accessible about absolutely absent it to be a acceptable piece.”
Touré: “It was foreign. I anticipate article apparently said, ‘Yeah, it apparently would be bigger to be at Vegas than Daytona.’ The official NASCAR association at the contest were all actual agreeable and affable to me, they were air-conditioned captivated to accept Rolling Stone there and couldn’t accept been nicer. They didn’t let on to me they were afraid about how I was activity to apperceive them.”
Gurss: “Some at NASCAR got a little anxious because Touré shows up with abbreviate dreadlocks, and they still were beneath some calefaction about the assortment thing. Touré asked about interviewing Brian France. They got actual afraid that somehow it was some array of subterfuge that he was activity to address this belittling adventure about the abridgement of diversity.”
Touré: “I don’t bethink anybody adage or accomplishing annihilation that fabricated me comfortable. I bethink active about with Junior (in Mooresville), and we anesthetized an circle and afresh you don’t see addition artery for miles. He said addition at the added circle had fabricated like a face, which adumbrated to him, ‘What the (expletive) are you accomplishing active about with him?’ He acicular this out in a way that wasn’t like ‘I’m so woke!’ which wasn’t a affair at that time, but aloof like, ‘That guy had article to say about it. Whatever.’ He was air-conditioned to me from the aboriginal second.”
Schuler: “The Rolling Stone adventure was apparently the bigger attention-grabber because what it meant for the cast itself. (Budweiser) was heavily aggravating to get in with music and aggravating to cast itself with assorted genres. It was a annual we advertised in absolutely a bit. Consistently capital to get altered belief in there. Here’s a adolescent kid from Mooresville, North Carolina, on the awning of Rolling Stone. That absolutely jumped us. He additionally was on the awning of TV Guide. I’ve got a affiche of all the altered publications we did with him — Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated.
“Those were big because of the absorption that we could get actual bound alfresco of the NASCAR apple and fandom. That’s what we were absolutely activity for. Go to a NASCAR chase and ask anyone if they knew Dale Jr. collection the Bud car, and it was accessible to get that done. It was, ‘How do we get him out of that?’ ”
Touré: “Rolling Stone absolutely admired putting a angle out of water. It absolutely formed putting me there because I had a analysis process. I was acquirements about NASCAR so I could advise the admirers about NASCAR as able-bodied as acquaint you about this guy rather than the expert. That usually works absolutely well, but the able knows so much, he may not bethink what the admirers does not know.”
‘I CAN’T GO THERE IN A MOORESVILLE SUIT’
The after division brought added opportunities, conspicuously introducing Linkin Esplanade at the 2001 Video Music Awards and a aboveboard account in Playboy.
Earnhardt: “I was air-conditioned shy. I’m activity to acquaint you that there is no bigger abhorrence than activity to the MTV Music Awards and introducing Linkin Park. I don’t anticipate I accept accomplished abhorrence like that anytime since. If it was up to me, I would accept never done those things. I would accept said heck no, I’m not accomplishing that. I don’t appetite to do that. That is scary.”
Gurss: “He was consistently absolutely afraid on Kimmel and Letterman stuff. Afresh he’d do it and beating it out of the park, and I’d say, ‘I told you you’d be great!’
“But I don’t appetite to enlarge I was badgering him. Afore presenting at the VMAs, he said, in one of my admired lines, ‘I can’t aloof go there in a Mooresville suit.’ We’d met a stylist from New York while on a Bodies annual shoot in Dover. We went to her appointment the afternoon of the VMAs, best out what to wear, and the boondocks car best us up and took us to the event. Sometimes, there was no admirable plan, it was aloof saying, ‘Hey this will be cool. This will be fun.’ ”
Earnhardt: “(Gurss) has a adroitness for allowance me try and accept why we should do it. What the acknowledgment and the repercussions would be from that, and the positives and the opportunities that would chase that. He would say like if this happens, afresh this could appear and this can happen.”
Gurss: “I’ve never apparent him so nervous, he was anguish tight. We didn’t apperceive what to apprehend or how it works. We aloof knew the car was there, and a advance would accommodated us to be our guide. They beatific us the calligraphy that was aloof terrible. We’re in our high-fashion apparel in the car, and he says, ‘I’m not adage this.’ I said, ‘We’ll bulk article out. It’s a animate telecast, they’re not activity to stop the appearance if you don’t say absolutely what’s on that.’ Our advance abettor was a dentist, a absolutely nice guy. We got to the red carpeting adequately early, and we asked him if we could change the script. The guy disappears, comes aback and says, ‘I begin the actuality accomplishing the teleprompter.’ He takes us aback to a anteroom in the theater, and Dale makes up article like, ‘I like my music like I like my cars, fast as hell. Some cliché but article bigger than what they had, and the actuality aloof typed it in the teleprompter! We were thinking, ‘OK, don’t apperceive if addition bare to accept that, but it’s in there.”
“He did all the media afterward. They were abashed he was accommodating to do this, and we said, ‘That’s what the sponsor pays him to do. We do this every weekend.’ ”
Earnhardt: “That was aloof affectionate of a absolute storm amid actuality commutual with (Gurss) and accepting the ascendancy that Budweiser had that could get us into those conversations. Actuality in the appropriate abode at the appropriate time because if it was up to me, I would accept never done those things. I would accept been like ‘Heck, no! I appetite to aloof drive.’ I’m still actual afraid of accomplishing those big hits, like music awards and things in advanced of a lot of bodies is actual arduous for me.”
A SUCCESSFUL LEGACY
Earnhardt’s appulse on Budweiser’s business was about immediate, arch to added abandon in the campaign.
Schuler: “It was appealing quick the alteration from accustomed NASCAR disciplinarian to a superstar with Bud on his chest. The aboriginal year, we had to put Budweiser in there about and a advertence to NASCAR. The abutting year, it was him absolutely abroad from the car. It was a abreast adult. Every NASCAR fan would apperceive who he was. If addition wasn’t a NASCAR fan, it was aloof a 26-year-old kid or archetypal in the abundance aggravating to get addition to accept Budweiser.
“We abstinent a lot of what we did with backdrop based on the broad arrangement and how abundant they ordered point of auction items. Above-mentioned to Dale Jr., July 4, Memorial Day and the Olympics would accumulate the all-inclusive bulk of excitement. The aboriginal year with Dale Jr., the NASCAR affairs went from No. 12 to No. 1 actual bound because he was what they capital to use to advertise Budweiser beer. That’s a metric that’s accessible to see because wholesalers accept to buy that stuff. They’re putting their money breadth their aperture is.”
Gurss: “All the agenda standups, the neon signs, all the bar actuality — the bounded wholesalers and distributors accept to buy that from Budweiser. In the Ricky Craven and Wally Dallenbach Jr. days, about 50% of the markets would buy that stuff. Within the aboriginal year or two of Dale Jr., it went to 90% plus. I consistently teased bodies I was advised by the cardinal of agenda standups at the 7-11. I knew my job was safe aback I saw a neon assurance at the bar. I was absorbed by that actuality a point of absolute numbers to advice them adjudicator the appulse it was having.”
The beachcomber of adolescent drivers replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bearing is heavily codicillary on amusing media, which ensures their abetment sponsors and brands are congenital about their 18-carat personalities. It’s an breadth in which Earnhardt was advanced of the curve
Schuler: “The congenital fan abject with the aftermost name absolutely helped, but it was who he was as a person. Best of those belief were above-mentioned to his dad’s passing. He already was on a aisle that no one anticipation he could get to, and afresh the tragedy happened and animated him to amount status.”
Earnhardt: “Those things happened because of our accord with Budweiser, and afresh Jade Gurss’ assignment belief and his adeptness to get us into those doors and into those conversations with those publications. That happened because of a absolutely dedicated, able actuality that sees befalling and does it aloof as abundant for himself if not for the actuality they are animate with. I accept to accord Jade aloof a lot of credit. He formed absolutely adamantine to get those opportunities for us.”
Gurss: “It wasn’t article we’d sit about and theorize. It’s abundant to say in retrospect, ‘You apperceive we had this bigger picture.’ It sounds pompous. So we didn’t sit about his bus and allocution about that. It was aloof an acquaintance of aggravating to get him to get out of his abundance zone. He was actual shy. If it were up to him, he’d break central and comedy video amateur and watch movies. Which is all great.”
Though Earnhardt’s ancestor reportedly grumbled about some of his son’s interviews, he was absolutely admiring of his breed demography the namesake to new audiences.
Schuler: “When Chief was alive, he was the alone actuality who airtight Junior into what we’re aggravating to do and breadth we’re going. That was a accident for Junior in agreement of, ‘How do I do this and breadth do I go?’ I
give him and his sister an immense bulk of acclaim for the authority they’ve built. They’ve done it by not authoritative a accomplished lot of mistakes. I’d about alarm him the Derek Jeter of NASCAR. He was best acceptable available for how continued but never a animated story. That’s a accurate acclaim to the moral ambit that Big E provided him above-mentioned to him leaving. I’m appreciative of the man he’s become.”
Gurss: “At that time, his dad was saying, ‘I’ve done my part. You’re up and coming. It’s time for you to do your allotment for NASCAR.’ His dad had absolute in him that view. Aback (Mike) Helton would approve, that meant a lot to him. Afore his dad passed, his dad was like that. He had a bigger account of added than himself and a faculty of the action as a whole.”
Earnhardt: “Even today, it is still article I don’t accept a absolute butt on. But I apperceive now, acumen what it could do for the action and aggravating to be a acceptable adumbrative of the sport. Accepting a abundant accord with Helton. I adulation authoritative him appreciative especially. He and Dad were absolutely close. Aback Dad was killed, I looked at Helton a bit as a ancestor bulk at times and would go angular on him and he would acquaint me about how able-bodied I was accomplishing and if I was apery the action well. It would advance me to appetite to do that added to accomplish him appreciative of me. That had a lot to do with it, too.”
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