Whether you’re a hardcore motorsports fan or someone who’s never watched a single stock car race, you’ve probably heard of Dale Earnhardt Jr. During his time on the NASCAR circuit, he became racing royalty. That star status, however, didn’t mean he was willing to keep his mouth shut and hide his personal beliefs.
Take, for example, the uneasy relationship between the Confederate flag and auto racing. Long before NASCAR stepped up and formally banned the flag, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear exactly where he stood on the matter.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most popular NASCAR drivers in recent history
From a cynical perspective, you could argue that it was impossible for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be anything other than a NASCAR star; his father, after all, was one of racing’s top talents. Even if he had a bit of an assist from dad, though, Junior still put together quite the career.
While Dale Jr. didn’t start driving because of his love of the sport—he explained that it helped him connect to his sometimes-distant father—he proved to be a natural behind the wheel. He joined the Busch Series in 1996 and, after two years, stepped up to the Cup Series circuit.
Although he never claimed a Cup Series championship, Junior still found plenty of success behind the wheel. He won 50 races across both series of competitions, earned two Busch Series titles, and monopolized the Most Popular Driver crown. That success also helped Dale Earnhardt Jr. build up a $300 million net worth, which isn’t a bad consolation prize, either.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t hide his feelings about the Confederate flag
Given his status as NASCAR’s golden boy, it’s easy to think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would hold his tongue and avoid any controversial topics. When it came to the Confederate flag, however, he openly spoke his mind.
As laid out by Autoweek, Junior has spoken more and more freely about the Confederate flag as his career progressed. In his 2001 book, Driver #8, for example, Earnhardt recalled being asked what he thought of the flag during a question-and-answer session. While he retrospectively wrote that the “rebel flag represents closed-minded, racist views that have no place in today’s society,” he didn’t want to get into that with the crowd; instead, he said, “I think it means something different to me than it does to y’all,” before moving on.
Then, in 2006, Earnhardt spoke to Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel about the flag. “We live in a country where you can speak freely and do as you may,” Dale Jr. explained. “I don’t know [if] what that flag stands for is the same for me as it is the guy who might have it flying out there. I am not going to agree with everything everybody does all my life. So I don’t have any control over it.” While that might sound like a vigorous condemnation, Wetzel said that Earnhardt was the only driver willing to speak on the topic.
By 2015, however, the driver wasn’t pulling any more punches. “I think it’s offensive to an entire race,” Earnhardt said, according to USA Today’s Jeff Gluck. “It does nothing for anybody to be there flying, so I don’t see any reason. It belongs in the history books, and that’s about it.”
Dale Earnhardt Sr. once removed a Confederate flag from his truck, too
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t the only member of his family to have an experience with the Confederate flag, though. On one occasion, his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., removed it from his personal truck.
“On my dad’s truck, he had this sticker with a rebel flag that said ‘American by birth, Southern by the grace of God,” Kelley Earnhardt explained, according to NBC Sports. “At the time, we had this housekeeper named Ann, and she was the most awesome lady. She was an African-American lady, and she asked my stepmother about my dad’s rebel flag on the back of his truck.”
Once the Intimidator heard about that interaction, he didn’t waste any time setting things right.
“And so the next thing we know, my dad’s out there with a knife and a razor blade, and he’s cutting the rebel flag out of the sticker,” Kelley continued. “He didn’t want to offend anybody or make anybody mad in that manner. It was so sweet. It was a little kind-hearted thing. She just thought that was the best. She’s like, ‘That’s just so awesome that you would do that.’ He had a good heart, a big heart.”