Spending a day on the set with Dale Earnhardt Jr., commercial star
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spends much of his January filming commercials for sponsors
Upon hearing complaints of track owners, Junior said the tracks need to do more
As for the season, he said he expects Brad Keselowski to have a great year
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- It's a picture perfect Friday afternoon, yet Dale Earnhardt Jr. is tucked away inside his private garage, which on this day has been darkened for a GoDaddy.com commercial shoot, one of the sponsors that will be on his Chevrolet during the 2009 season.
The garage is nestled away in the Iredell County countryside, behind iron gates and beyond a sign on the driveway that says "Dirty Mo' Acres." Off to the right is a high-banked go-kart track that would be the envy of any kid growing up. And still under construction is a huge mansion that will soon be home to NASCAR's most popular driver.
While the house may be lavish by everyday standards, there are other drivers in the series who have built bigger, more elaborate homes, according to Mike Davis, a close personal aide to Earnhardt. "You have to remember," Davis says, "that for most of his career, Junior has lived in a two-level modular home. So this is something that he's been waiting to build. It's going to be nice, but it won't be as elaborate as one might expect."
Hmmm.... a modest mansion for someone with $30 million in the bank.
"I'm real excited about getting my house done," Earnhardt says. "I've never really built a house before, so this has been an interesting experience. It's going to be fun when it is done. There are a lot of cool things that I've added. The basement will be a lot of fun, with a pool table and a poker room and a music room. That's going to be a lot of fun down there."
The sanctuary will give Earnhardt a place to escape the demands that come from his popularity, even though it's his ease in front of the camera, his off-the-cuff comments and his Generation X appeal that makes him the idol of the "Junior Nation."
On this day he sits in front of a film crew of 30. Earlier in the day, he and his young driving protégé, Brad Keselowski, shot a commercial featuring Candice Michelle of World Wrestling Entertainment working under the hood of one of the GoDaddy.com-sponsored Chevrolets. In another commercial, every time Keselowski goes to speak, he is cut off by Earnhardt, who describes the advantages to GoDaddy.com and finally tells the frustrated second fiddle, "Brad, you've got to be a lot faster."
When the director tells Keselowski to show more emotion, his response is, "It's hard when you only got one word."
That's because in this script, Earnhardt is the star.
"I just get in there and get 'er done," Earnhardt said of shooting commercials. "I don't know if we are better than a lot of actors, but when you do it enough and do it enough times, you don't take it too seriously. You go in there and have fun. You need to be yourself.
"Half the time I enjoy doing these things and the other half of the time I'd rather be laying around, [goofing] off. I get those days once a week if I'm lucky. That's when nobody can find me or bother me."
But Earnhardt, the businessman, understands how important it is to his sponsors to get their value out of such an arrangement.
"You can see [GoDaddy.com] getting involved more and more in all kinds of different things and we were the lucky group to pair up with them when they wanted to get more involved in NASCAR," he says. "It's good for the perception of our program to have them involved with us because it fits our mentality and personality.
"We try to do all of these commercial shoots in January when we have time. And this year, without testing and not having to go to Daytona, that's been a lot more fun for me."
Earnhardt is a big fan of not testing at Daytona even though he competes for a team (Hendrick Motorsports) that has all the resources to make testing worthwhile.
"You aren't going learn anything in a test that you haven't already learned," Earnhardt said. "We've been testing cars at Daytona for 30 years and they have figured out about everything there is to know. If we quit testing it saves an individual car $1.5 million. That's a lot of money.
"But I'm looking forward to going back to Daytona. I think we'll be all right. We didn't run well in the Daytona 500 for some reason. I made some mistakes in the lines that I chose at the end of the race, but I should have been stronger all day.
"For the rest of the season, we got all the stuff, we got all the tools, we got no excuses. We've got a great team. We've got more than most people take to the race track. We'll be all right."
While Earnhardt steals the spotlight, Keselowski, who has been a star in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and will run selected Sprint Cup races this season, is able to learn what it takes to be a star on and off the track by the way Earnhardt projects himself. Keselowski was Earnhardt's choice several years ago and so far is living up to expectations driving for Junior's Nationwide Series team.
"My expectations for Brad are to have the same season he had last year," Earnhardt said. "It's going to be hard to beat the Cup guys, but if he can win some races and be up there battling with them and making a case for himself, I'd be happy as Hell."
Earnhardt would also be happy if less were expected of drivers. Case in point. At a recent round-table discussion involving the track promoters of Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), several stressed that they'd like to see drivers do more to help the fans and the tracks in order to sell more tickets at those facilities.
Upon hearing that during a break in his commercial shoot, Earnhardt fired back with a message of his own.
"The race track owners want drivers to do more? Yeah, right. They need to go back to work," he said. "They forgot what it's like to sell tickets. That's their problem. They ain't had to sell tickets for a long time and none of them remember how or knew how or ever learned how.
"They need to get back to working hard and doing their promotions and putting packages together for race fans. They don't want to cut the ticket price but they probably should and get these hotels to quit gouging these people. They can dump that responsibility on drivers all they want but the responsibility really lies in their hands to sell race tickets and they have to get creative in doing it. We already do a lot. We do [bleeping] plenty and they are full of [bleep]."
Earnhardt believes the risk versus reward for a driver offering his opinion often leads to ridicule. That is why some drivers don't open up to the fans and the media.
"There are a lot of great guys in this sport," Earnhardt said. "We do what we do, man. We race as hard as we can race. I don't know what else we can do. I'm not going to be a part of no circus. I'm out there going to race and that is what we do. The cars drive the way they drive and we are driving them as hard as we can and get side-by-side and make it a show. We're driving our butts off.
"I've just got to get it done this year and make it happen."
If Earnhardt can make it happen on the track as easily as he makes it happen filming commercials, then he should have a very successful 2009 season.