News & Media

Earnhardt Jr. reflects in letter to 16-year-old self

September 14, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed Friday at Chicagoland Speedway his motive for participating in a recent video aired by CBS News.

In it, Earnhardt wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self and pulled back the curtain on his past, including his relationship with his father, the late Dale Earnhardt. It was, he said Friday, something he had to be talked into doing -- but that he's now happy he did.

"Living under your father's roof doesn't bridge the incredible gap between you guys. In due time, you will enjoy the most incredible relationship with him."


"I got a lot of positive reaction," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm glad I did it, but I probably wouldn't have done it on my own. I got a lot of influence and help to make the decision from [public relations representative] Laura [Scott] and the PR team that I've got. It's probably nothing I would have volunteered to do.

"I thought it was a good challenge and a little bit outside the typical things we do. It was just outside the norm. I kind of like to try to do those things."

A transcript of the letter Earnhardt wrote to his 16-year-old self for the CBS News special follows.

"Now writing this letter to you is going to force me to think pretty deeply about my life, and you know thinking deeply was never one of your favorite activities. You always did and always will shoot for the C on your report card. Anything more than that is always going to be a surprise to you, right?

"You just got your driver's license . . . your heart belongs to no one . . . and you're going to spend a lot of nights in the bed of your S10 pickup truck out in the field staring up at the stars worrying about your future. Your father's accomplishments on the race track already cast a pretty heavy shadow over your existence. He's going to accomplish more in the years to come and your fear of living anonymously and forgotten -- that's going to grow.

"You don't have much of a connection to your mother ... your efforts in that regard are disappointing. In the future, she is going to become a consistent and prominent figure in your life . . . but you shouldn't waste the years in between, because her love is the truly unconditional kind. You shouldn't take it for granted.

"Living under your father's roof doesn't bridge the incredible gap between you guys. In due time, you will enjoy the most incredible relationship with him.

"One afternoon after an accident, you're going to go home thinking your career is over. And then bustin' in through the door comes your dad and he's wondering what you're doing sitting on your butt feeling sorry for yourself. And you are going to go out on the back porch and sit down and have a two-hour conversation that is the most influential conversation you'll ever have with him. He is going to finally assure you of what lies ahead. It's not the end of your career like you thought, it's the just the beginning of a very, very long incredible journey.

"You'll share laughs and triumphs at his side. It'll be in your best interest that when these times come, you get everything out of them that you possibly can. I mean, when it is you and him, in that moment, you live it to the fullest.

"Now you want to be a race car driver, so let's talk about the racing. As I look back on it as a whole, starting out from go-karts all the way to Cup today, it's going to feel clunky and impromptu, and is going to be lacking in successes. But fortunately for you every weekend there will be another race.

"Now with that said, you're going to be so deathly frightened of potential failure that you're not going to realize just how much fun you're having. You're going to win a lot of races, and as painfully shy as you are you'll overcome and accomplish in arenas not just limited to driving cars. You're going to meet Presidents. You're going to guest on late night shows. I mean, it's incredible, but it's true.

"That's not too bad for an oil mechanic. Yes, you are going to change oil change for a few years -- and it's not as bad as it sounds.

"And I knew you'd want to know about your Redskins. Now your Redskins are goin' to win another Super Bowl in '91. But after that it's a pretty rough road. But your support for them Redskins doesn't waver one bit.

"Overall, you need to just be more sure of yourself. You're going to do great things, man. You're going to have an awesome life. You have a great heart and it's going to stay with you throughout. So don't be so timid and worrisome about the future so much so that you can't enjoy the present. You're there, worried about me here. You just need to have some fun, man. Jump in that S10, go down to Concord and cruise the strip. Because you're going to be here ... soon enough."

Earnhardt said Friday that he was pleased with how the project turned out, comparing it to a Rolling Stone magazine interview he once did.

"When we had the opportunity to do the Rolling Stone magazine [piece] years ago -- even though I knew it was going to be in front of a lot of people who didn't know who I was and that's very uncomfortable for me because I don't really venture into those kind of areas -- I just knew it was something that I need to challenge myself to do," he said. "I thought this was the same kind of thing. It was not easy to do and I really don't like talking about myself, but I felt like, if anything, I could make my mother happy. I thought she really enjoyed it.

"I got a lot of good feedback on it. I'm glad that I did it. When you write something like that and say the things that you say, you don't know how they're going to get received. I looked at some of the other ones that they did, and they are incredible. Some of them were inspiring as hell. I guess, too, I hoped to be able to accomplish that. If I did it or not, I don't know, but I was hoping to put myself in the category with the people who had done it before me."