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"Seeing ain't gonna fix it," Earnhardt snaps. "Ask Hawk. I don't want to talk about it."
Jeez. Pulling in as much money as Earnhardt and Hawk do, why are they so upset about one little counterfeit trading card and one bootleg poster?
"The black market in NASCAR," says Hawk, "has got to be worth several million dollars a quarter—in pictures, plaques, die-cast cars, collectibles."
Still—stacked up against $42 million?
"They must be countin' up all that bootleg——," Earnhardt says irritably, trying to dismiss the big number.
Done at last with the day's autographing, Earnhardt drops a worn-out felt-tip pen and says, "I'm out of time, but I'll keep talking." He stretches out on the sofa, resigning himself to a few more minutes of interview.
To have known him since 1979 is to sense right now that " Earnhardt is antsy," as the late Joe Whitlock often put it. Whitlock was Earnhardt's original image maker, aide-de-camp, adviser, handler, nurturer, even coddler. The brattish young driver was restless, idiosyncratic, unpolished, bewildered by his sudden transition from small time to big time. Whitlock babied him, became almost his surrogate father, and he created an image for Earnhardt in the media—even landed him on the front page of The New York Times sports section in 1980, when that realm was virtually unreachable for NASCAR.
" Earnhardt's antsy—let's go," Whitlock would command the driver's entourage when he sensed that Earnhardt was in a hurry without knowing why. So it went for a decade, until Whitlock, a hard-drinking, old-school NASCAR star maker, could no longer keep pace with the Earnhardt phenomenon and its new corporate handlers.
To have known Earnhardt and his circle since 1979, to have seen the way it was then and the way it is now, is to feel compelled to ask, "Do you ever think of Whitlock?"
Earnhardt closes his eyes. "All the time," he says.