If you’re a hardcore NASCAR fan, it’s hard to imagine the sport without an Earnhardt involved in one way or another. Ralph got things started before giving way to Dale; he, of course, was eventually joined on the track by his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. The course of motorsports history, however, could have unfolded much differently.
Growing up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. never planned on climbing behind the wheel of a race car. In fact, he could have ended up as a professional artist if he listened to his dad’s advice.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t plan on becoming a NASCAR driver
Given his father’s success on the NASCAR circuit, you might think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. grew up dreaming of the day when he could climb behind the wheel of a stock car and claim his first checkered flag. While that’s what eventually ended up happening, it wasn’t the original plan.
Since Dale Sr. dropped out of school to start racing, he wanted to make sure his children got an education. Junior did just that, earning an automotive degree and taking a job at his father’s car dealership. One day, though, his dreams of becoming a fully-fledged mechanic went up in smoke.
After a new service manager took over, Earnhardt Jr. was fired from his job as “assistant engine guy.” He then ended up working on his sister’s late model car and, eventually, started spending more and more time behind the wheel. From there, the rest is history.
Dale Earnhardt tried to convince his son to enroll in art school
Professional mechanic wasn’t the only potential career on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plate, though. If he followed his father’s advice, the future NASCAR star could have also headed to art school and embarked on a career as an artist.
On Reddit, user fireaway7878 shared images of some car sketch that was credited to Earnhardt Jr., wondering if the driver had actually drawn it. In a touch of serendipity, the artist himself saw the post and confirmed that it was his work.
“Yes / as to why… I was into drawing race cars back when I was in school. Dad and [stepmother] Teresa even tried to convince me to pursue art school after I graduated high school,” Junior wrote. “I wasn’t very good at the more realistic attempts. I did enjoy a quick sketch of a racecar with a cartoonish appearance (oversized tires sticking far outside the body). This was a quick sketch of my brothers [sic] LMS car from his 1994 season at Hickory. Don’t know why it didn’t end up in the garbage.”
Would Dale Earnhardt Jr. have had the chops to make it as a professional artist? Who’s to say. Attending art school, however, could have changed the course of his life forever.
In the end, though, NASCAR worked out pretty well for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Between being a mechanic and heading off to art school, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could have embarked on a variety of career paths. In the end, though, the allure of the track proved to be too great.
While some nasty concussion-related issues eventually curtailed his career, Junior did pretty well for himself in the world of NASCAR. He won 50 races, claimed first place in two Daytona 500s, and took home 15 NASCAR Most Popular Driver titles. That success and popularity helped him become a co-owner of JR Motorsports, score a role as part of NBC’s NASCAR coverage, and build up an estimated $300 million net worth.
Whether he was a mechanic or an artist, it’s tough to imagine that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have found that same success without climbing behind the wheel.