Dale Earnhardt Jr. admittedly didn’t have a strong relationship with his father when he was growing up. The late Dale Earnhardt Sr. was so engrossed in his motorsports career, his children often took a back seat. Junior knows deep down that his father cared about him then and can pinpoint the time when he realized his father was actually on his side.
The complicated relationship between Earnhardt Jr. and his dad
Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t hide the fact that his father wasn’t always there for his children when they were growing up. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of NASCAR’s top drivers and that appeared to be his biggest focus. As time grew on, they became closer, but as a child, Junior always felt like he disappointed his dad.
“There was this one time, I was probably 12 years old. Me and my buddy (were outside),” Earnhardt Jr. said during an interview with Joe Rogan. “My dad’s standing over there and there was a bucket, full of s**t. He’s like ‘hey, come here Junior, pick that bucket up and move it over here.’ And I went over there and tried to pick it up, and I was like ‘I can’t lift it.’ He got so pissed off at me because he knew I didn’t try. And he said to my buddy, Ryan, ‘Ryan come over here, pick the bucket up and take it over there.’ He turned around and gave me this look of pure freaking disappointment.
“And I felt like that set the tone for our relationship. I feel like that was our relationship in a nutshell for most of my teenage years. He looked at me as, you know, ‘I don’t know what he’s going to amount to and I don’t know what this kid’s gonna do. I don’t know what skills he has, or whether he’s ever going to get his act together, or whether he’s ever going to figure himself out.'”
A house fire brought Dale Earnhardt Jr. to live with his father
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his siblings were living with their mother after their parents divorced early in their marriage. One morning, Junior woke up and was told to rush out of the house because the house was on fire. “Mom was broke and had to move back to Norfolk, Virginia, to be closer to some family,” Earnhardt Jr. told Danica Patrick on her Pretty Intense podcast. “That was the decision she made. It was just going to be too hard on her to maintain me and Kelley and so we went to live with Dad.”
It wasn’t by choice, but Junior spent additional time with his father, although the elder Earnhardt was consumed with his career. The two hardly ever spoke about racing at all. Sometimes, they hardly spoke, period.
“I never saw Dad. I’ve got like one or two memories of Dad before I was probably six or so,” Earnhardt Jr. told Patrick.”I don’t really know how much he was around or how often we were sent to be with him. If he got visitation, I don’t know when he got them or how often he took his opportunity to do that. I don’t have a lot of memory of that.”
Earnhardt Jr. recalls when he realized his dad was on his side
Throughout his childhood, Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt like he was on his own. He had great support from his sister Kelley but never had that father figure he wanted. “In 1997, I was racing Xfinity races here and there,” Junior told Danica Patrick on her Pretty Intense podcast. ‘I had a car and I took it to Charlotte and we were practicing on Friday. The race is the next day and I crashed in practice.
“It was the only car I had so we load up and we go home. I’m upset and I’m disappointed and I thought my career was over.” Earnhardt Jr. said he was embarrassed and felt like he would never get another chance after wrecking in front of his father and his friends. “I sit in my house and I’m sulking and like two, three hours later, Dad comes home. He bangs on the door and stomps in there in his cowboy boots and looks at me and goes, ‘what are you doing?’ I was like I wrecked and I figured I’m done.”
Earnhardt Sr. took his son on the back steps. “He was like, ‘the guys that are helping you on your car are some friends of mine and they’re over there at the shop cutting up your car and fixing it,” Junior said. “I was like, ‘really?’ and he was like, ‘yeah, why aren’t you over there? If you want to race again, you should be wanting to fix the car you just wrecked.’ Junior said they had an impactful two-hour conversation on those back steps. “That was the first time me and him had one of those talks,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That was the first time we sat down and I felt like, man he’s in my corner.”