When Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 6 years old, he woke up to a fire in his home. Not only did the fire displace the family, but it also changed the lives of Junior and his older sister Kelley. Their mom was forced to move in with family members in Virginia, while Dale Jr. and Kelley went to live with Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was very wrapped up in his motorsports career.
The housefire that changed the lives of the Earnhardt family
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 6, he was awakened and told to get out of the house because it was on fire. He was living with his mother and his sister, Kelley, and their lives quickly changed because of that fire. Junior’s mother, Brenda, had to make an extremely difficult decision after the house was destroyed.
The single mother elected to move back with family in Virginia because she didn’t have a job and didn’t have the means to take care of Junior and Kelley. she lost everything in the fire, according to the Charlotte Observer. She sent Dale and Kelley to live with their father, who was in a better position to “provide a promising future” for them.
With their mother now six hours away and their father consumed by his racing career, Kelley became a mentor to Dale Jr. She looked out for him and even changed schools to be with him after he acted up and was sent to a military school. It was when they were with their father that Earnhardt Jr and Kelley developed their special bond.
While away from their mother, Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley grew close
When Junior and Kelley were living with their father, it was tough on the kids. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was busy becoming one of the best NASCAR drivers in the sport. He had been NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year in 1979 and then claimed one of his seven Cup Series championships the following year. He spent most of his time at the racetrack.
“The absence of Dad, not just going to the races, but being a part of the things you were doing – proms, graduation, soccer games, softball games,” Kelley Earnhardt said during an interview with Kyle Petty that was posted on Motorsports on NBC in 2019. “It’s absence. On top of that, it’s one thing to be gone and not attend those things or whatever, but then in the home, too. You’re not tucking them in the bed. You’re not home at bedtime. He kinda left that to (his wife) Teresa.”
Kelley became more than just a big sister at that time. She was Dale Jr.’s mentor. “That was when Dale and I really forged our bond,” Kelley said. That strong bond has continued as the two remain close. They also remain tied to racing together as co-owners of JR Motorsports.
Brenda Jackson shared emotional family moment before her death
Brenda Jackson, the mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr., died after a lengthy battle with cancer in April of 2019. She was 65. In 2017, when Jackson was a guest on her daughter Kelley’s Fast Lane Family podcast, Kelley said how much she appreciated the sacrifices her mother made when she and Dale Jr. were children.
Brenda would drive six hours each way to see Dale Jr. and Kelley on the weekend. “Times with Mom were weekends or a couple of weeks in the summer – which we made it all about fun,” Kelley said on the podcast. “A lot of things we didn’t see, Mom, the sacrifices you guys had to make in order to make that work and Dale talked about you driving six hours to pick us up on a Friday at five…”
Brenda then brought up a heartbreaking moment when she drove the six hours and wasn’t able to see her kids. “I remember one time, oh goodness, the traffic was terrible – they had a wreck or something,” Jackson said. “I was late getting there, which I had called and told him I was in traffic and was late, but they had to leave to go to the race – so they just loaded y’all up with them and I got there and y’all were gone….it was heartbreaking. It was terrible. I cried, Then your daddy has to call me up because I guess y’all were crying, too. And he calls me up and asks if I would please talk to y’all. I don’t like to dwell on all that. I like to dwell on all the fun times.”