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January 10, 2009

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.


THE MODERATOR: We have Dale Earnhardt, Jr. How many signings did you do and what kind of lap pace were you on out there?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think everybody does 200 or something like that. It was fun. Fans were in good spirits. Even with the weather the way it is, everybody is pretty excited to be here. It's good. It's the first thing we do at the beginning of the year, is come to Sound and Speed. We've had really nothing going on for the last month and a half. It's good to get back to work, get to doing something productive. Really brings the awareness about that the year's getting ready to start, gets you excited about going to Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: Did you have much of an off-season? If so, care to share any fun things you might have done?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I took my family on a trip, which was good. First time me, Carey and Kelly and my sister Taylor have ever been anywhere together as a group, so that was pretty exciting for us. I guess we all had to grow up a little bit and get a little older to appreciate being around each other.
I've just been kind of keeping it close to home. We got the Whiskey River Bar down in Charlotte. Been going down there and hanging out, keeping close to JR Motorsports, trying to get some more sponsorship into the 5 program to get that car running more races, staying in contact with Tony, Jr., with what's going on with the 88 team. Took my uncles Robert and Jimmy G and Tony, Jr., to Missouri, went deer hunting the week of Christmas. That was fun.
THE MODERATOR: We had Ray Evernham in here a little bit ago. The topic was mergers. Another team near and dear to your heart was involved in a pretty big one. Does that mean anything special to you? What do you see happening there?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It seems to be all the craze these days, merging together. We did it last year with Rick and our Busch team. It's actually kind of fun. You can really consolidate some of your best parts and try to create an overall better team. Obviously it's done for financial reasons. You try to do the best you can to kind of reconstruct your financial expenditures, all that stuff.
It's unnecessary to make such a big deal out of it. I think it's just part of the way things are going right now. A lot of the teams are finding that to be sort of a Godsend, to be able to keep competing in the sport. It's good for several teams that have been able to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Questions from the floor.

Q. Can you talk about the 88 Nationwide program sponsor deal you just got wrapped up, how big a relief that was, because it's getting close to the start of the season.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We actually got ourselves a great relationship with Go Daddy. Unilever has come on board this year with all their brands, Hellmann's, Ragu. It's pretty exciting. Some sponsors come from other teams. I don't know, nobody really gives it to you outright, but I take it as a compliment they've come over to work with us. I was really excited about the Go Daddy car. I think it's crazy looking, the car is. Different than last year. I made Brad's as crazy looking as I could make it. I think it's just like solid green and orange, so it should get quite a reaction, good and bad.
I like Go Daddy. They're a fun company. They're kind of off the cuff, by the seat of their pants. The guy that created it really has a good -- I don't know, he's pretty easy to deal with, good guy to get along with. I like working with people like that.
We're still working, like I said, on some programs in the 5 car, to try to put some stuff together. I think that team is slated to run about six races. We need to run that team about 20, 21 races at the least. That's what I'd like to do at least. Those guys need to be at the racetrack working so they can be learning. They like to race. They need to race, so...

Q. I've asked some of the other racers, was there one defining moment that made them want to be a racecar driver, who their early inspirations were. Being who your dad was, was there one piece of advice that your dad gave you that stood out above everything else in your career starting out?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think, you know, it's common knowledge to stay away from drugs and putting yourself in a position to be in a crowd where people are doing those type of things. It's pretty dangerous business. When your dad's telling you that when you're a freshman in high school, all those things, you're so naive to how much of that stuff's truly out there.
I think had he not been consistently telling me about those pitfalls, you know, I kind of thank him for being dedicated to making that clear and making sure I knew exactly how severe and serious that situation was because the older you get, the more you realize how often that stuff is found out in society and how close it is to you.
So I worry about my nephews and nieces and some of my family members just going down the right path, being right, not falling into that same problem that a lot of people do, just trying to stay clean and function, you know, without getting swept up in the wrong crowd, being around the wrong people, making the wrong decisions.
You take that kind of stuff for granted, man. But it's so easy to get involved in it. Then it's so difficult to get away from it. So I was lucky. That point was made pretty clear to me when I was younger. Even though I was naive and didn't take it very seriously then, it means a lot to me now.

Q. I know you've got the Whiskey River Bar in Charlotte. Can you kind of talk about your relationship with performers in country music, how that developed and where it's at now. I know a lot of people look at you and they think that he's the Kurt Cobain type, all that. You do have some history with country music.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I've had some pretty good friendships built up over the last several years with some of the guys that I was actually a big fan of. Dwight Yoakam, Dierks Bentley. Obviously my dad was a fan and big friends with Alabama and several other people, obviously.
The friendships are just equal admiration. They come out, see what we do. We see what they do. We all kind of have similar attitudes toward life, I guess, a little bit not taking stuff so seriously, just sort of enjoying yourself, having an opportunity to do something you love for a living. You can appreciate a lot of the similarities between the commitments, travel, the responsibility.
But, you know, opened up the bar. Dierks comes and has a CD release party. You have some other friends come and play. That's pretty cool. You know, it's just friendships. That's all that really matters. If you can bring 'em together in a working relationship, do kind of cool stuff within your chosen field, that's kind of cool, too. You just kind of appreciate each other for either how talented they are and being down-to-earth.

Q. Last year you showed up early for testing. What do you do the next couple of weeks? How do you get back in the mindset without there being testing to get back in that racecar, get that mode in your head?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, John Henry's company that he started called Iracing.com, John Henry that owns the Red Sox, I've been doing that about every day, helping those guys in development of that simulation. That's been keeping me pretty busy. I've run about eight thousand laps since December 1st when I first got kind of on my vacation, if you will. But I spent a lot of time doing that.
I really am glad to have some time off. I like going to the bar, having some fun. I'll be going to the bar tonight, hopefully next weekend. I don't know. We're going to go to Daytona for FanFest, but hopefully we get home in time to go to Whiskey River, raise a little hell.

Q. What are some of the things that you enjoy the most with the Sound and Speed event?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think the fun part for me is this is the first interaction with the race fans in several months. They'll tell you about how excited they are about the season. They'll tell you about how they want you to have a good year. They'll tell you about how they met you last year, whatever. Sort of gets you back into the feeling of going back to the racetrack, getting excited about going back to the racetrack.
That's the funnest part for me. Like I say, you sit around and you got a couple months off, you really get used to being a bum at the house. This really starts to bring you back to getting to the racetrack. I'm excited about going racing at Daytona. But this really sort of makes you -- it's a little bit of a tease. You're kind of ready to get there now.
Coming out here and doing this, obviously you get to meet some people. You get to meet some new people from the country western world, from the music world. You get to see some old friends that you raced with that you ain't seen all winter. But just hearing the fans tell you about how excited they are sort of gets you excited.

Q. You talked about your time off. What about the length of the season and the impact the economy has on the length of the season?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I mean, the season's long. You know, the economy's in real bad shape. I think everybody knows that. It's gonna have an impact on everything. I don't really know how bad it will get. Hopefully it don't get too bad.
But it's not projected to recover till late 2009. We'll just have to weather the storm best we can. Everybody's been making cuts, job cuts, stuff here and there, trying to do whatever they can to try to maintain their organization and keep their teams together. But people are losing jobs in our sport. You know, everybody's just trying to get to the end of the recession we're having right now.

Q. (Question about the season.)
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The season is long. I'm never satisfied. If I ain't racing, I'm ready to race. If I'm racing, I want a week off. Hard to get satisfied (laughter).

Q. With one year at Hendrick under your belt now, but no opportunity to test this year, what do you think about your prospects for 2009? Do you still think that your teammate in the 48 car is the man to beat?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you know, Kyle and Carl are very strong. Carl did an awesome job this past year. He's really turning into quite a representative for our sport. He's doing a good job.
But those three guys are at the top right now as far as probably being the probables to be battling for the championship next year. But the fact that we're not testing is good for us. We have a lot of resources, simulation programs, a lot of good engineers to sort of guess where we need to be when we go to the racetrack. A lot of the teams don't have that, so we'll have the advantage I think with the testing policy the way it is.

Q. Could you reflect on the past year of having the Guard as a sponsor, what you learned from that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, it's always fun working with the military as a sponsor because they're not like anything else. They're not pushing corporate products or anything like that. It's just different, you know. Military also, with the situation we have over in the Middle East, the military's really pushed to the forefront of everybody's minds, whether it be in the news or what have you. It's a really important time, I guess, to be supportive. That makes it interesting right now to be working with them, to see a lot of the things that you see, learn what you learn about what kind of job they're doing.
But the Guard is a little different because you're a civilian soldier. You sort of kind of still keep your day job until you're called upon to do whatever it is. A lot of times you go to different places to do different types of work, whether it be if we have a hurricane or something at the homeland, those guys go in there and work. So you do all kinds of different stuff. It's kind of interesting to hear the stories that you hear.
I like it. I like working with the military. I was lucky because General Vaughn, who runs the National Guard, and I got along really, really good. I really came to admire him more and more each time I met him. He invited me to his house. We all kind of hung out one day. I don't know. It just sort of made me really appreciate my relationship with him.
But it's been fun. He's going to retire and we're going to get a new guy. Hopefully he's just as cool.

Q. Talk about your new teammate. Must be kind of a thrill to race with Mark Martin on the same team after competing against him. Everybody knows what a great representative of the sport he is.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I ain't really talked to him much. We haven't been around each other at all during the off-season. I haven't seen him since the end of last year. He's a great guy. He's really appreciative. Always got nice things to say about you.
He ran a Busch race for us in Vegas that he won. I was clambering to get pictures of him for my own personal collection with a uniform on where it says JR Motorsports on his shoulder. I don't know, I just thought that was awesome having that on his shoulder because of what he's done in the sport, how long he's been around.
One of my favorite racecars ever, as far as paint schemes, and you know I'm crazy about those, is the ASA car he used to drive at Nashville, the No. 2. It was orange and white, a beautiful racecar. He came to my house when I was -- I must have been eight or nine years old. We sat down in the basement. He was showing my dad these tapes of him racing at Nashville. It was when Mark was trying to get into the sport, into the Winston Cup series at the time. So I've known him forever. His son Matt is a great kid. It's awesome to see him at the racetrack. Whether he's my teammate or not, he's an amazing asset to the sport. He's just a really, really good guy.
But I'm glad that he decided to kind of come back and run full-time. I think he obviously forgot how much of a grind it is. But he'll get through it. Especially being able to drive great racecars, it's makes it a lot easier when you're running up front. Hopefully he decides to do more than one year. I'd like to learn as much as I can from him while he's here.

Q. You've been asked a couple of questions about the relationship with the country artists. I recall two years ago you were paired in the autograph booth with LeAnn Rimes. I think last year your partners with Taylor Swift. Who were you in the booth with today? Any stories?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Miss Peck was the one I was paired with today. We met earlier this year at a race. We had broken the ice there. But LeAnn, she's an amazing person. She's a lot of fun to be around. She's got a hell of a head on her shoulders. She's just a beautiful person. It's always great to see her no matter where you're at.
Taylor was very nice, too. It's always fun to meet those type of people. My family back home is, you know, going to have a ton of questions for me every time I come out here to Nashville and meet some of these people. They get excited about it. Fortunately in the country music world the majority of the people you meet are down-to-earth and good people, so it's fun to be a part of it.

Q. If you could date any of these cute country music singer ladies, who would it be? Underwood, Swift?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: That's tough. That is definitely difficult when you have to narrow it down to just one. I think that LeAnn. Obviously she's married, but he's probably the luckiest man in country music.

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