The running of the 2021 Daytona 500 is a special one because it’s the 20-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death. On the eve of starting the 2021 NASCAR season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. released a new episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast, where he reflects on his father’s career and his win at the 1998 race with his father’s former crew chief Larry McReynolds. During the conversation, the two men talk about Earnhardt’s work ethic and his willingness to listen, or lack thereof. And that’s when things get testy as Junior goes on a rant.
Dale Earnhardt partners with Larry McReynolds
After winning back-to-back Cup Series championships in 1993 and 1994, Dale Earnhardt finished second in 1995. Finishing second was bad enough, but Earnhardt’s crew chief Andy Petree departed after the season to start his own team.
David Smith, who had worked as his primary jackman for years, served as the crew chief in 1996. Earnhardt won twice that year and finished fourth in the year-end standings. After two consecutive years without a title, he was looking for a change.
Larry McReynolds over at Robert Yates Racing was looking for a change of scenery. Richard Childress negotiated with the veteran crew chief, who won the 1992 Daytona 500 with Davey Allison, and brought him into the RCR family where he would serve as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chief the next season.
Dale Earnhardt and Larry McReynolds struggle in 1997
After two consecutive years without a Cup Series title, the Dale Earnhardt camp hoped bringing on Larry McReynolds would right the ship and get things headed in the right direction. Then, 1997 happened.
For only the second time in his career, Earnhardt failed to win a race the entire season. That season he had 16 top-10 finishes and seven top-5s. He finished fifth in the point standings, his worst finish since 1992.
By Dale Earnhardt standards, the season was unequivocally a huge disappointment.
Dale Jr. gets frustrated talking with Larry McReynolds
During an episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought on Larry McReynolds as a guest. They discussed a variety of topics, including the successful run at Daytona in 1998. They also talked about the struggles from the 1997 season.
At one point, after listening to McReynolds talk about their time together and how Dale Sr. was so averse to change after he came on board and preferred the status quo, Junior went off.
“That was the problem. Dad was struggling. Dad was trying find the answer. This is like the golden ticket,” Earnhardt said, referring to McReynolds. “You don’t have opportunities to get crew chiefs that are so successful.”
Earnhardt said one of the things that was particularly aggravating was his father’s unwillingness to test the vehicle before races, and instead relying on test drivers.
“It’s just frustrating because when this is all going on, I’m Dad’s biggest fan. I’m privy to this information. I would see Mike Dillon testing his car, and I’d go — Hm, why aren’t you? It’s Talladega. You’re the man. Why aren’t you testing at these places? Even though Mike can go out there and run the same laps, it’s just not the same. If Dad’s in there, he can see the air and all those things. If he’s that magician on the race track, why isn’t he in the car, hearing what’s going on, taking it all in, trying to figure out how to make things faster?”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., clearly exasperated by his father’s stubbornness, wrapped up his rant.
“The fact that he was hardheaded about going with this guy who’s got some new answers, got some new ideas, and he’s not even open to like let this guy have the reins… It’s just frustrating to hear.”
While Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Larry McReynolds never found any sustained success, they did win the single race that had eluded Earnhardt for years at the 1998 Daytona 500. It was a sweet taste of victory in an otherwise sour pairing that came to an end later in 1998 when Richard Childress swapped McReynolds and Mike Skinner’s crew chief.