Kerry Earnhardt taking on new job at DEI
Kerry Earnhardt was in his famous father's plans for a driver's role with Dale Earnhardt Inc. That never materialized. Nearly six years after Dale Earnhardt's death, Kerry is joining DEI as a team liaison, writes David Newton.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The man walking through the garage on Wednesday looked eerily similar to the late Dale Earnhardt and wore the familiar red driver's suit of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He was neither.
He was Kerry Earnhardt, who was subbing for his half brother during the third day of preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway.
But while Earnhardt Jr. ponders his future with the stock car organization his father built, Kerry is preparing for one.
He will join Dale Earnhardt Inc. as a full-time employee next week, serving as a liaison between the Nextel Cup and Busch programs and driving in a handful of races.
"Teresa and Richie have been talking to me about coming there for several years," Kerry said of team owner/stepmother Teresa Earnhardt and director of motorsports Richie Gilmore. "I've been thinking about the company a lot in my head.
"It's hard to give up driving. Now I've come to a point where I realize that doing the things I'm doing is not doing me any good, just riding around and not having any decent finishes."
Kerry, the spitting image of his father, drove full time in the Craftsman Truck Series a year ago for ThorSports Racing. He was 22nd in points with no finish better than 11th.
He drove in seven Nextel Cup races between 2000 and 2005 with no finish better than 17th. That came two years ago at Talladega for Richard Childress, who was his dad's car owner for six of seven titles.
He has 68 starts in the Busch Series since 1998 with only three top-5s and six top-10s.
"I've got four kids, a baby 3½ years old," said Kerry, who has done most of the testing for DEI's Car of Tomorrow. "There have been several times when we've blown a right-front tire or got caught up in somebody else's accident and I've taken some pretty hard licks.
"I've started thinking more about my life than my career."
Kerry, 37, has asked to drive in at least five Busch races and a couple of Cup races for DEI, but said his future with the company doesn't hinge on that.
"I always wish I had the opportunity to be in equipment like this," said Kerry, who was 20th-fastest in the morning practice while Earnhardt Jr. honored previous commitments. "Now if I run three to five Busch races and can be successful with that maybe more things can come to me."
Kerry may have joined DEI years ago had his father not died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Plans were in place for him to drive some Busch, Cup and ARCA events.
"Those plans got nixed for the right reasons at the time," said Kerry, who has a 17-year-old son in racing. "Now it's time to become more involved with the business and help out the best that I can."
Kerry hopes to fill part of the role of Tony Eury Sr., who has moved from team liaison to crew chief for DEI's third Cup team with Paul Menard. He doesn't have a title and doesn't want one.
"The ones with titles are the ones that get blamed for everything," he said.
Tony Eury Jr., the crew chief for Earnhardt Jr., is excited to have another Earnhardt around.
"Just having an Earnhardt face walking around the shop that can talk to the guys will be a morale boost," he said. "He looks more like his daddy than any of them.
"And he has experience racing. If we tell him a problem he might get the message better to Teresa."
Kerry grew up in a different house from Teresa and Earnhardt Jr. He didn't find out who his father was until later in life.
But he says his relationship with Teresa is great and quite different from her tumultuous relationship with Earnhardt Jr., who said on Monday that would be a factor in his negotiations to re-sign with DEI beyond this season.
"I don't know how their relationship is," Kerry said. "I just look at my relationship with her and realize she's not a bad person.
"There's two sides to it. Dale Jr. and [sister] Kelley grew up in the home with her. I was on the outside with my mom and stepdad. I didn't grow up with the frictions they had like every child has with a parent. It's hard to speak for Dale Jr. and what his situation is."
But Kerry fully expects to work and laugh side by side with Earnhardt Jr. at DEI -- as they did on Tuesday -- for many years to come.
And no, working in his brother's shadow isn't and never has been a problem.
"The publicity stuff doesn't bother me," Kerry said. "It's neat to be able to go to Wal-Mart or go out to eat and not have people hounding you. Dale Jr., it's hard for him to go out anywhere."
Kerry, knowing the visions and dreams of his dad, said Earnhardt would be proud to have all of his children involved in the company. Eury Jr. agreed.
"That's what he built it for to start with, so later on down the road when he was gone they would have something to do," he said. "It's cool to see it all come together."
Kerry also admitted relationships might be different if his dad were alive.
"There would be a whole lot of things different, the advice and communications between the families," he said. "He was the person you always went to. He was the one that always would give the advice.
"There's no one I can go to for that advice. I just talk to a few people within the company and listen to what they say and try to take the best advice and do what's best for myself."
He hopes his ability to communicate with all the teams will help the company become stronger.
"The first couple of days it was hard sitting here watching the cars go around and not be in one," Kerry said. "But it's been a better opportunity for me to be involved with Dale Earnhardt Inc. as an employee, trying to help out as a go-to person, than be a driver."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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