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NASCAR Illustrated - Growing Up NASCAR: Earnhardt

June 03, 2014, NASCAR Illustrated, NASCAR.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller reminisce about life in the infield

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What was it like? That's really all we wanted to know when we talked to the children of some of the most famous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in NASCAR history. We wanted to know how it felt to grow up in racing.

The children of Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton have lived lives of incredible breadth. Travel, privilege, and excitement have been part of their lives. But their parents' lifestyle also brought stress with fathers focused on success at the expense of almost everything else.

But most of all, the children in the inner circle shared a unique and near-unbreakable bond. No matter what might have happened among their fathers on the track, they were bound by the unique opportunities and demands of their lives.

Here are the stories of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, you can order a copy or subscribe here: NASCAR-Illustrated.com/Store -- As told to Steven Levine and Jay Pfeifer. Edited by Jay Pfeifer.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller

Parents:
Dale Earnhardt
and Brenda Gee

Dale Jr.: "When I'd go to races, I just liked watching the race and practice. There were a lot of KomfortKoach vans -- everybody had one. We would all park together -- all the drivers, owners and crew chiefs -- we all interacted. We hung out with sons and daughters. We'd say, 'Alright, what do you want to do?' We'd sit in a van and laugh and joke or we'd walk around the garage, you know, stealing decals from the trucks. Just begging guys to let us wax the race car. We just ran around. There were no gate guards, no hot passes. When you got in the infield, you just went where you wanted. We were in every hauler we wanted to be in. Just running around.

"Our father wasn't like, 'You stay here and don't leave.' As soon as he got to the track, he would head to the car and he was busy. And you could go do whatever you wanted to do."

Kelley Earnhardt Miller: "For the most part. You remember that time he was in the car and he said, 'Tell them kids to get off of something?' "

DE: "We were hanging out somewhere we weren't supposed to be and he saw us."

KEM: " 'Tell them kids to get down' and we were like, 'Whoa! He saw us?' "

DE: "We went to Pocono in 1987. And I remember climbing the pagoda they had just built. And me and Scotty [Williams, son of crew chief Doug Williams] and Brad [Means, son of driver Jimmy Means] -- we would just run to the best vantage point. We'd stand there for a while and then, 'Hey, let's go over there!' and we'd run there. 'Let's go way down in Turn 1 and stand.' And during the race, you're just running all over the place. You had complete control over what you wanted to do. You didn't have to worry about nothing. It was so fun."

KEM: "As kids, we only went to the close races -- the Darlingtons, the Martinsvilles. We went because we wanted to go. And when I reached the teenage years, I probably chose more not to go than go -- to stay back and do things."

DE: "Staying home had its advantages. We would have fun when Dad and Teresa were out of town. But we had live-in housekeepers that kept us straight. I felt like we had the coolest situation. Being able to go to these races and our dad being who he was. It was just real hard to get kids from outside of the sport our age to either have interest in it or understand it. We rarely took friends to the track. They never were interested. Our friendships with people at the track were stronger than with the people at school.

"During the race, we usually hung out in the drivers lounge. Every track has a lounge -- or used to have a lounge -- and drivers would actually go there. They'd take showers after practice. They'd hang out during downtime because there weren't any motorhomes. They weren't sitting in their vans, running air conditioners. And they didn't sit in the front of the hauler because in front of the trailer, you carried engines and people were working there. So, the drivers would go to the lounges and we'd hang out there because we wanted to talk to them.

"We used to hang out with Heidi Bodine [Brett Bodine's daughter] all the time and her dad won at North Wilkesboro in the Quaker State car. And we didn't talk to her the whole race. Because her dad was spanking everyone -- just wearing everyone out -- and we didn't talk to her because we were just mad.

"Then, the next week, we'd be friends again. It was fun."

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, you can order a copy or subscribe here: NASCAR-Illustrated.com/Store