The name Earnhardt will always be linked to NASCAR. No one knows that better than Dale Earnhardt’s grandson, Jeffrey Earnhardt. It’s a legacy that comes with advantages and expectations. It can also overpower anyone standing in its shadow.
I sat down with Earnhardt this past weekend to learn more about the driver with the famous last name. We talked about everything from racing to hunting to family to glitter tattoos.
He will run a full-time schedule this year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Go Green Racing. When I asked him about his goals for the season, he answered without hesitation.
“Personally, I‘d like to win Rookie of the Year,” he said. “That’s the number one priority for me this year and to finish in the top 10 in points.”
He doesn’t expect it to be easy but he’s confident that he is with the right team and is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“I know the first half of the year is probably going to be tough,” Earnhardt said. “With a new crew chief and new team, there’s a connection that’s got to build there. But I think after the first couple of races, everything will start to click and we’ll get the chemistry going to where we’re having consistent runs every weekend and finishing in the top 15.”
He will be racing on most of the tracks on the schedule for the first time. Does he feel intimidated by that fact?
His answer was a resounding, no.
“I have fun facing new challenges. It’s the competitive side of me to want to go to a new track that I’ve never been to and by the time I leave be able to say to myself, ‘I own this place.’”
Earnhardt continued, “That’s how I feel at every track, even tracks I’ve been to before. You think this time; ‘I can do better than that.’ It’s always a competition within yourself to want to do better.”
Do you prefer old school or new school racing?
“Old school, for sure. I feel like today there’s a lot of people who don’t seem to want it as bad. I feel like I was in that situation. When I was at DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) I thought the streets were paved with gold and I had that taken away from me.”
He went on to add, “Since then, I learned a lot. I learned about fighting for something you want really bad and that’s how it’s been the last couple of years. I took the opportunity for granted and didn’t appreciate what was given to me. It was a rocky road and a huge learning experience.”
Do you prefer country music or rock and roll?
“Country, big time.”
His favorite group used to be Brooks and Dunn but since the duo disbanded, Jeffrey’s favorite singer is Justin Moore.
Do you prefer hunting or fishing?
“Hunting. I grew up fishing a lot as a kid but I’ve really taken to hunting. I like to bow hunt now so bow hunting is one of my favorite things to do.”
Earnhardt recently mentioned that he had taken his 9-year-old sister Kayla hunting. When I asked him about this, his face lit up with a huge smile.
“She is spoiled rotten and she’s the world to me. I’d put my life on the line for her, hands down, for that little girl. She’s just adorable.”
“She came over and spent the night so we had a little sleep over. We did these glitter tattoos. It was all kinds of fun,” he said laughing.
I had to ask, ‘Did you get a glitter tattoo?’
“I let her put one on me,” he admitted. “That was it. It was a lot of fun. She begged me to go hunting so we went out hunting the next morning. We didn’t kill anything. But we had fun.”
Did you have a favorite driver, other than your grandfather?
“No, but when I was a little kid I really liked Kyle Petty for the simple fact that when I was over at their shop one day and peeking through the window, he was nice enough to come out and speak to me. That meant a lot to me as a kid for him to take the time to come out and talk to me. That was cool.”
However, it was obvious who his real hero was.
“My grandfather was one of a kind,” Earnhardt said. “There are things he’s done on the track that I’ve never seen anyone else do. It’s hard not to like someone like that who has that edge.”
Are you an aggressive driver?
“I don’t like to think I’m aggressive. I like to think I race fair. I’m going to race you the same way you race me but I do have my aggressive side where I will do whatever it takes. But you also have to be respectful of other drivers. I’ve learned through this whole journey I’ve had, the hard work and the money that goes into this sport. It’s not cheap. To be a smaller team and have a good run going and have it taken away by someone is very hurtful so I’m respectful of that.”
Do you look at this year as a pivotal point in your career?
“It’s definitely a turning point and a chance to prove what I can do in solid equipment. Going into this season I feel very confident that the team I’m with, Go Green Racing, that they’re going to put me in the best opportunities to go out there and perform. Being out there every weekend and keeping everything fresh on my mind and keeping that rhythm, that’s a big part of it.”
What was your most embarrassing moment on the track?
“I ran a UARA late model race at Bristol. It’s been quite a while back. We were out during practice and it was starting to sprinkle. They wanted the cars to stay on the track and help keep it dried off because it wasn’t raining that hard.”
“I was out there cutting the steering wheel back and forth, keeping the heat in the tires and all of a sudden the car turned and it didn’t turn back to the right like I wanted it to and then I slid head on into the barrels on pit road and knocked the entire front nose off the car. It was terrible. We were just out there trying to keep the track dry and I wrecked.”
“It was hard to climb out of the car and take the helmet off after that one.”
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
“It’s probably between two things.”
“One is the good run we had going at Daytona last year. The finish wasn’t there but to be able to take a small team like that and be up there running fourth with the best cars in the field, to be able to do that, it really meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to the guys back at the shop.”
Earnhardt’s hopes for a good finish were ruined after an off-center push from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turned him sideways in front of the main pack of cars.
“Besides that, it was qualifying on the pole (his first) in the (Camping World) East race at Dover. It’s been several years ago but it was cool to go out there and out-qualify someone like Joey Logano who is now a Cup driver.
At that point in time, I was just as good as those guys. I feel like I still am.”
When all is said and done, Jeffrey Earnhardt is not that different from any other driver, despite his last name. He is confident, yet humble, aggressive but fair and passionate about racing. He is appreciative of his legacy but determined to find his own way. He embraces life with a smile on his face and fire in his heart. And his journey has just begun.