Commentary

Teresa Earnhardt shows her party side to the media

An "Off the Record" party thrown by Teresa Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Inc. last week may be just the right start for the makeover of the most vilified woman in motorsports, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: December 4, 2007, 2:10 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Things you'll never see in NASCAR:

  • The France family declares bankruptcy.
  • Team owner Jack Roush happily announces Toyota as his new partner.
  • Michael Waltrip wins a Sprint Cup title.
  • Jeff Gordon becomes the most popular driver at Talladega.
  • Teresa Earnhardt has a party for the media.

Uh-oh. Scratch that last one off the list. It actually happened.

The owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc. is trying to transform her image and prove she isn't the evil stepmother of NASCAR.

She took a big step last week in repairing her relationship with reporters who cover the sport, many of whom have criticized her regularly in recent years.

[+] EnlargeMax Siegel
AP Photo/Evan AgostiniMax Siegel already has helped guide DEI through some tough waters.

DEI and Teresa hosted a party in Manhattan -- at the hip and trendy Nikki Beach Midtown club -- for media members in town to cover the Nextel Cup banquet week.

Talk about stepping through the looking glass. I expected the Mad Hatter to serve drinks.

It was a surreal moment in an informal setting with a very private woman. Teresa rarely attends races and makes a habit of not speaking to the media.

But this night, she was a social butterfly, shaking hands and talking with reporters, just a friendly lady having a few laughs.

Teresa also grabbed a mike and gave a short speech, thanking everyone for attending. She even managed to joke about her reputation:

"We'll make sure our team at DEI gets you everything you need," she said. "Because you know you won't get it from me. I hope everyone has a good time, and if they don't, I'm sure I'll get the blame."

Touché. Who knew she could toss a couple of quips with the best of them? Being around Teresa that night was fun.

The event was officially "Off the Record," as listed on the invitation, meaning no race-related questions, and especially no Dale Earnhardt Jr. questions.

And that's OK. It wasn't the time or place for it. This was a chance for Teresa to show some journalists that she isn't as bad as we've made her out to be.

And she succeeded. She seemed to be enjoying herself. She was the life of the party.

Maybe it helped that she knew no racing or family questions were coming. But her newfound good will probably has a deeper root.

The worst is behind her now. The sour relationship with Dale Jr. has ended. He moved on, and so has DEI.

Maybe that has helped put Teresa at ease, no longer having to tiptoe through conflict-laden issues with her late husband's son.

We've all talked about the fresh start for Junior at Hendrick Motorsports, but it's also a fresh start for Teresa and DEI. She has two of the best executives in the business advising her -- Max Siegel, the president of global operations, and John Story, the vice president of racing operations.

Siegel and Story made a major move in improving DEI with the purchase of Ginn Racing this summer. It gave DEI a four-car team and a much larger shop to house its operation.

DEI also has a driver it can build around with Martin Truex Jr. He made the Chase this year and proved he's capable of competing for the championship if he has the team and equipment equal to the task.

No doubt Mark Martin will have input that will help DEI improve in those areas. He'll race another partial schedule while helping Aric Almirola learn at the Cup level. Martin also will continue to mentor Regan Smith, who will race full time in Cup next year for DEI.

Put it all together, and DEI has a foundation that can lead to a bright future, but it all has to start at the top.

Teresa has been the question mark for a long time. She was the unknown in the equation. You never knew for sure what she thought or where she stood.

Maybe that's changing. Last week's little gathering was a good first step.

The (New) Man In Black?
Tony Stewart gave a nice speech at the Nextel Cup awards banquet, but he could use a little help from the fashion police.

Tony Stewart
AP Photo/Stuart RamsonTony Stewart had a blackout at the awards banquet Friday.

In his black tux, black shirt, black tie and bushy slicked-back black hair, Stewart looked as though he was auditioning for a movie version of "The Sopranos."

And In This Corner
After Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon had a little in-your-face argument last season, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage seized the moment for his IndyCar race one week later.

Gossage had boxing posters made up of the two racers that read: "Rumble at the Speedway."

Now Gossage already has a new slogan in mind for when "Dancing with the Stars" winner Helio Castroneves arrives for the 2008 IndyCar event.

"We don't have to change much," Gossage said. "We'll go with 'Rumba at the Speedway.'"

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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