Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his professional racing career with NASCAR in large part from his father’s help. His racing days’ early goings saw him compete under the family company, Dale Earnhardt Inc. However, internal issues involving his stepmother sent the entire situation sideways.
Dale Earnhardt Inc. history
In 1998, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his wife, Teresa Earnhardt, decided to start Dale Earnhardt that operated out of Mooresville, North Carolina.
Aside from his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. racing for the team, other notable drivers joined the ranks. The list includes Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., Kerry Earnhardt, Robby Gordon, and Kenny Wallace.
Following Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic passing in 2001, the company continued to push forward for several years but eventually ran into some internal issues.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s stepmother wrecks family business
Following the creation of Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI), junior joined the company as one of the brand’s faces.
It was only a matter of time before Dale Earnhardt Jr. voiced his desire to own a significant part of the company that graced his and his father’s name. However, the pathway toward that came with much friction and internal tension.
Earnhardt Jr. was met with pushback from his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt, regarding that plan of action. Dale Sr. helped launch his son’s career and created DEI so that Dale Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt could have a place to race when he retired.
The hope was that his children could utilize the Earnhardt name to find success in the industry. However, Teresa, the president and Chief Executive Officer, stood pat and prevented her stepson from gathering any ownership.
He desired to gather a controlling interest of the company (at least 51%) to help push the company forward to compete for championships. However, Teresa publicly questioned her stepson’s commitment to making that happen.
The tensions created a separation within the company that led to Dale Jr. to make a massive move.
Family fallout leads to massive moves
The internal conflict reached the point where Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the career-defining move to leave the company his father created.
Beyond the desire for controlling ownership of the organization, Earnhardt Jr. felt that DEI was declining over the previous few years. He chose to join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 after his deal expired to extend his driving career away from the family brand.
According to ESPN, Earnhardt Jr. voiced that he was never close to a new deal with DEI and emphasized that money was never a deciding factor.
“”Money’s not really the issue. It’s not the guy who gives me the biggest paycheck,” he said. “There’s some things you can’t get with money: peace of mind and satisfaction.”
Earnhardt Jr. had won 39 races at that point in his career, including 22 Busch Series victories and a Daytona 500 after his debut in 1996. However, he struggled from 2004-2007 with only two race wins and 18 top-five finishes in 82 events.
With Hendricks Motorsports (HMI), Dale Jr. rode under No. 88 where he competed in his final nine years of his career (2008-2017). During that span, he won his second and final Daytona 500 while qualifying for the NASCAR playoffs six times and won nine total races.
Meanwhile, DEI moved toward a massive move itself following Dale Jr.’s decision with a forced merge with Chip Ganassi Racing. The organization still participates in partnerships that bring tributes to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s memory.