Dale Earnhardt Jr. competed for more than two decades as a NASCAR driver. Earnhardt‘s sustained career earned him plenty of recognition, highlighted by a Hall of Fame induction. However, his life could have taken a much different path had race car driving not worked out.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career
Earnhardt spent more than two decades behind the wheel on the NASCAR track.
It began with a short stint as an Xfinity Series driver, featuring back-to-back championships. His success spawned a Cup Series career, where he competed for 19 years, becoming a staple in the sport.
Although his success wasn’t near his father’s, he etched out his path behind 26 career wins, including a pair of Daytona 500 victories. His cumulative career helped him earn an induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class.
However, if Earnhardt hadn’t worked out a NASCAR racing career, his occupational choice would have been far different.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly embraced another job if his NASCAR career flopped: ‘It was just a normal life and I didn’t think racing was going to work’
Earnhardt didn’t experience an entirely smooth path to becoming a NASCAR driver.
His aspirations began to waver in his early 20s after hitting a tough stretch in his driving career. It nearly led toward another lifestyle of working as a mechanic at his dad’s dealership.
“I was working at my dad’s dealership as a service mechanic,” Earnhardt said during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show in November 2017. “I was changing oil. They had this deal that was 29 minutes or less quick lube, a good 6,000 or 3,000-mile service on your car. I was the only mechanic in there doing those. I did that for a couple of years and I worked with the assistant engine guy pulling tranny or broken engine. “
“I went to college to get an automotive degree and that’s what I was doing. It was fun. I really enjoyed it and took a lot of pride in it. I kept my stuff clean. You saved your money and the tool man would come once a week. I was right there at the Christmas parties and all that. It was just a normal life. I didn’t racing was going to work.
Earnhardt became engrained in the mechanic lifestyle as he found true happiness and pride in his work. If his racing career didn’t turn around, he firmly believes he would have worked full-time with that craft.
“I think if I wasn’t racing, I would be a mechanic in automotive dealerships or I might be a mechanic on the road for a race team,” Earnhardt said. “Who says I wouldn’t be working on the road as a mechanic.”
Xfinity Series opportunity leads to full-time NASCAR racing career
At that point, Earnhardt‘s racing dreams were nearly dashed due to his lack of success.
However, the opportunity to compete in a few races in the Xfinity Series in 1997 for Dale Earnhard Inc. and Wellrich Motorsports shifted the entire dynamic of the situation.
“I ran those 159 late model races, and I only won three of them. I ran in the top 5 a lot and I just wasn’t winning any races that I thought was going to get an opportunity beyond that. The money was drying up and we only ran eight races in 1997. Dad just point-blank told me ‘I don’t want to pour any more money into this.’ We had a sponsor and that went away.
“Lucky enough to I got into an Xfinity Series car to run the Busch Series and ran well enough to run the car full time in 1998.”
Earnhardt took full advantage of the opportunity to race for DEI with back-to-back Xfinity Series championships, including winning 13 total races. It opened the door to becoming a full-time Cup Series driver, where he spent the rest of his NASCAR career.