Dale Earnhardt Sr. was called The Intimidator for a reason. On the track, he acted and drove like he owned it. He was impatient with other NASCAR drivers. He was equally impatient following a race, always wanting to get off site as fast as possible.
During a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download, longtime racing reporter Dr. Jerry Punch recounted one time where he saw just how bad Earnhardt wanted to leave a track and how it almost resulted in an injured cameraman, but instead ended in a confrontation the following week with the doctor threatening to kick Earnhardt’s a**.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. almost runs over cameraman
Early in Dr. Jerry Punch’s career as a television pit reporter, a specific series of events changed the course of his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Sr. In a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Punch shared the story.
He said it all started at Dover International Speedway. Earnhardt wasn’t in the best mood as he had cut a tire in the final few laps of the race and didn’t win. Earnhardt, who didn’t like to stick around the track long after a race, tried to get out as fast as he could.
Meanwhile, Punch had been instructed to get a quick post-race interview with Earnhardt. When the reporter caught up with the driver, he told him he had just 30 seconds before they came back from a commercial break and he would interview him. Earnhardt wasn’t having any of it and told Punch he wanted to go.
“My camera guy is Corky Corcoran, and he’s a big ole guy and he’s standing at the front of the car,” Punch remembered. “He’s easing over in front of the car so Dale can’t move. Dale’s bumping him. Corky is trying to hang on to that big camera. He keeps bumping him and finally right before the commercial break ended and we were suppose to come back for a quick interview, he bumps Corky real hard and spins around Corky and takes off. Corky almost falls back carrying that $20,000 camera. It wasn’t the camera but the fact he could have broken his back or hurt himself. We were hot.”
Dr. Jerry Punch confronts Dale Earnhardt Sr. the next week
The following week the NASCAR Cup Series race was in Martinsville. When Dr. Jerry Punch arrived in Martinsville, he raced straight to the No. 3 truck to talk with Dale Earnhardt about what happened the previous week.
Punch said when he got inside the truck, he was told Earnhardt was lying down in the front. After telling Earnhardt’s crew they might want to call in team owner Richard Childress, Punch made his way to the front where he found Earnhardt.
“I said, ‘You’re better than that. You could have hurt that guy. What’s wrong with you? You need to kick my a**, or I’m going to kick yours. We’ve got to have this out because this is ridiculous. You really could have hurt that guy.'”
“Calm down, Doc,” Earnhardt told Punch as Childress came walking in with his eyes as big as saucers.
“We were friends enough that he sat up, he apologized, and he said, ‘You go find Corky. When you see Corky, I want to apologize to him.’ We talked it out a little bit.”
That confrontation changed their relationship
Dr. Jerry Punch said that single confrontation with Dale Earnhardt Sr. forever changed the course of their relationship.
“Our friendship and respect for each other grew immensely. An hour later, I’m getting ready to do a practice show and he comes walking over and sees Corky and walks over to Corky right in front of everybody and apologizes. He didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of guy he was.”
Punch said from that point on Earnhardt went above and beyond. He said after winning a road-course race at Sonoma, Earnhardt exited his vehicle, took off the steering wheel, and gave it to Corky.
Dale Earnhardt might have intimidated a lot of people on the track, but off of it, he was just a regular guy like anyone else, who gave respect when given respect. Dr. Jerry Punch found out the hard way.