Transcript: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Press Conference

The following is a transcript from Thursday’s news conference, in which NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his plans to drive for a new team in 2008:

MIKE DAVIS (Moderator): Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. My name is Mike Davis. I am the Communications Director here at JR Motorsports. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. What I’d like to do is introduce to you our featured speakers for this news conference. To my right we have 17?time winner in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Vice President and General Manager of JR Motorsports, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge. Dale Jr. Will read an opening statement and we will then open it up for questions. Keep in mind there will not be a separate breakout session. With that said, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

DALE EARNHARDT JR: Thanks, Mike. We’re here today to talk, at last, about my contract at DEI. First off, let me say how much I appreciate the media understanding and being patient throughout the negotiations to keep this as private as we wanted to keep it. For those of you who know me, you know I hate keeping things under wraps, and I’m usually pretty honest, but it was something that was absolutely necessary as the negotiations progressed. I told you all season long that when we have something to announce, we’d announce it. So we’re calling this press conference here today to announce that after a year of intense negotiations and intense effort on behalf of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and JR Motorsports, that we’ve decided it is time for us to move on and seek other opportunities to drive for a new team in 2008. We’ve both worked extremely hard to find a common ground, but as the negotiations continued, one thing became evident, we both want to get to the same place, but we both simply have different visions on how to get there. Because DEI means so much to me, I felt it was best now for both of us to start focusing on our future so that we both could come out of this successfully. Trust me when I say that DEI will come out of this successfully. Teresa and Max Seigel are taking the necessary steps to bring DEI back to one of the front?running NASCAR teams. However, at 32 years of age, the same age as my father was when he made his final and most important career decision, it is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now. What team I drive for next season, I don’t know. We’ll see what opportunities I have, we’ll see who wants to hire me, who is interested for me to drive their race cars, and we’ll decide from there. That is an announcement, obviously, for a later date. Today I want to say with complete sincerity that it’s been a privilege to drive for DEI, and it will continue to be a privilege throughout this season. It’s really all I’ve ever known. We’ve grown together, we’ve won together and we’ve lost together. It is important for me that my father’s legacy continues. I would like nothing more than for DEI to continue building its future around good people, hard work and relentless determination. The same characteristics that were so evident in the man who built the place. We will continue to work together on many projects that will benefit both DEI and JR Motorsports, and the legacy of my father. All the while, it is time for me to continue his legacy and the way I only know I can — by taking the life lessons that he taught me, be a man, race hard, and contend for championships. Since that is what I plan to do, I feel strongly that I would have my father’s blessing. If I may speak openly to my fans, my dad’s fans and fans of DEI and all of the people who watch NASCAR racing each weekend, please understand that my decision is one I make for my career. I make it with the utmost respect to your loyalty and support. My motivation to climb in the race car each week is to satisfy my fans and give them what I feel they deserve. I want to also thank some of my family members for being here today to support me. Obviously, my sister, my mother, Brenda, and my grandmother, Martha Earnhardt and my Aunt Cathy. All of my family has been really supportive throughout this, and I want to thank them for that. So we’ll open it up to any questions you guys might have for me or my sister.

Q. Was there one specific thing that led to this decision? And about what time did the two of you decide that what was best for Dale Jr., was to move on?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Well, we’ll keep the instances and circumstances throughout the contract and the negotiations private. I don’t think it’s really important to get into that. But I can honestly say that we weren’t really close with what we both had in mind. Like I said, they have every intention of running well and doing well. We just have a difference of opinion on how we get there. But you know, we’ve been pretty honest with the media as far as what we were doing, what our decision was. We stayed positive throughout the negotiations to work toward our goal and this brought us here today.

Q. Can you talk about in light of the fact you’re going to be the most sought after driver in the history of this sport, your sense of excitement looking forward to that?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, that’s kind of the deal, I’m sort of split down the middle. I drove for DEI my entire career. It’s been successful and been a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of ?? we’ve done a lot of great things and I believe that company will continue to do good things and continue to surprise people. I’m going to miss a lot of the relationships within the shop itself and the individuals that work there. They have my full support, mentally and what not. But the other half of me is really excited about what my opportunities might be and what lays out there, you know. We’re just going to, we sort of have carved this out between me and my sister. We worked really hard to come to an agreement with DEI, and that was what we focused on throughout the entire negotiations. Me and her haven’t had a moment to really sit down and talk about what our opportunities are. We will certainly start to seek those out and see where we feel we would be most comfortable. But I don’t really ?? I’ve never been in this position before, so I don’t know what to expect, and we’ll just have to deal with each bridge as we cross it.

Q. I assume that every car owner’s going to be blowing up your cell phone starting right now. And I guess you have your pick of where you want to go. Are you open to listening to non? Chevrolet teams? And what happens with Budweiser? Are they going with you?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: We have a great relationship with Budweiser and those things will definitely be discussed and dealt with in a timely fashion. I enjoy driving Chevrolets and my relationship with Chevrolet is very, very strong and I feel like that is where I’d be best suited to continue driving Chevrolets.

Q. For both Dale Jr., and Kelley. During the negotiations y’all both expressed a desire to make a family business that everybody could share in for a long time out of DEI. What does this change do to your plans and desires to have a family business?

Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: I think at this point that hasn’t really changed for us. We’re still Earnhardts. We still have a relationship with Teresa and Kerry and Taylor. For whatever the future holds for us as participants in Dale Earnhardt, Inc., there’s lots of years to figure that out. And Dale and I both want to be very supportive of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and their efforts because it is our family name as well. So we will do everything we can to support their rebuilding that team and the efforts that they’re putting forth to make that team successful. From a timing standpoint, it’s just the time for us to prepare for 2008, and this decision had to be made because of that for both sides. DEI needs to move forward with what their plans are for 2008, and so do we. So the timing was a situation where if we couldn’t come to terms we both felt best just to move forward.

Q. This is a big cart?before?the?horse kind of question. But your fans are going to want to know, the 8, does that come with you? Car number? Obviously you can’t answer that question until you know where you’re going. But what number would you like to have on the side your car wherever you drive next year?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Well, I’ll be happy with I’m sure whatever decision we make, whatever decision we make we’ll be really happy and excited about. It would be awesome to continue driving the No. 8, but those numbers are obviously owned by the car owners and that is probably something that Teresa would prefer to have stay at DEI. I’m assuming that’s probably what will be the case.

Q. Tony Jr., told me in the past if you went he’d go. And there’s been some speculation that Martin Truex may join you, are either of those true?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: I can’t really speak for Tony Jr. Tony Jr., will do what Tony Jr. wants to do. We have a great working relationship, and I enjoy working with Tony Jr. Martin is in the same boat as you guys are. He’s probably watching this as we speak. He’s been a great teammate and he’s a great friend of mine, and he’ll continue to be a great teammate and great friend of mine, but he is not part of this discussion or this situation. He’s not particularly part of any of our future discussions, whatever those may be, you know.

Q. You seem very at peace lately, chatting with you. It seems like this was an easy decision or you’re very much at peace with it. When you addressed the employees over there, they said it was a quiet, sad moment. Can you talk about what’s in your heart right now about addressing the employees at DEI, and whether you’re going to take any of the Bud Team with you or if you can?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, you know, it’s hard to say what’s been the hardest part, the hardest thing to deal with in my life. We’ve had a lot of great things happen, but we’ve also dealt with some tragedies. I was very sad earlier today. It was really hard talk to go the employees, talking to my team, I don’t expect those guys to understand fully. I told them whatever their opinions and emotions were is fair, however they react and what not. I told them that I wanted to run as hard as we could run the rest of the year. It was important to me that we ran as good as we could run. I think that we owe it to DEI to give our best effort each week. And I hope that they would feel the same way. I mean, talking to the employees as a whole, you know, was just really, really difficult for me. But I feel very comfortable with my decision. I just don’t expect everyone at DEI to fully understand, you know, why we or how we came to this. I can’t really speculate or guess on, you know, what individuals might be interested in what we’re going to do in the future. I guess that would be a case?by?case basis and whatever opportunities might be out there for them, I support my team, my guys no matter what they do. What they choose to do, just as we support DEI in the future. Like Kelley said, the company is still part of our family. It’s what my father built and conceived with his hard work, and we want to see it succeed and be successful. This decision is made today based solely on my driving career, not my, you know, not my personal interests in my involvement with DEI and what not. You know, we still want to see that company work and succeed. I’ll just have to see what’s out there for us. We’ve got to sit down and decide what we want to. So we’re going to listen, and it doesn’t cost anything to listen, so we’re going to listen to whoever wants to have a conversation with us and move from there.

Q. Guys, is forming your own Cup team one of the options you’re considering, and do you have a timetable for wanting to get something done?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Kelley knows a lot about the timetable, that’s sort of what she’s been concerning with. We don’t ?? I can’t sit here right now and honestly tell you that one thing’s out in front of another on what things we might want to do in the future. We’re just going to look at everything clearly and see what we feel would be best for us. We obviously want to be doing things that would complement JR Motorsports. Complement my efforts here with the Busch teams and the Hooters Pro Cup teams and the Late Model teams. We want to give our employees here the best opportunity to be successful. I would hope that whatever I may decide to do would complement those ideals. So as far as a timeline, I think Kelley would be able to answer that for you.

Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: I think that if we ?? there is time to start our own Cup effort, if that’s what we chose to do. Again, just like this decision, there will be a time that that wouldn’t be feasible. We have like Dale said, our work cut out for us to engage ourselves with other teams and listen to what the opportunities are and I believe our first choice would be to drive for another top competitive team. Our last choice would be to form our own Cup team. But if that was necessary, that’s what we would do.

Q. You said your dad would have approved of this move. All indications are though that he intended when he built Dale Earnhardt, Inc., he intended it to be a company for yourself, Kelley, and Kerry long?term. What do you think he would have thought if he knew that the long?term future of DEI didn’t include two of his children?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: What was the last part there?

Q. What do you think he would have thought if he would have known that the future of DEI long?term wouldn’t have included two of his children?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Obviously I think ?? obviously, I feel like his vision, and he said it himself, was for me to have a huge role in the company itself. Throughout the negotiations I felt like me and Kelley came to the understanding that that was not in the cards, you know what I’m saying? So it may be in the cards 20 years down the road. It may be something that happens. But from a driver’s standpoint, and from where I feel I am as a driver and what I want to do and what I want to accomplish, this is a decision I made today.

Q. If Dale and Kelley could answer this. When this process first started, did you truly believe that the end result would be something other than what we’re doing today? That it would be the other option?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Absolutely. When we first started our talks and negotiations, I was anticipating signing a new contract with DEI, and we worked pretty hard on it. I mean, we’ve done contracts with DEI before. I can’t ?? I can say that this was probably 10 times the effort, and 10 times the work and discussions and the meetings and the back and forth, you know. It was really, really hectic. Difficult, you know. But we had I think Max and Teresa, they worked hard trying to provide something, we worked hard trying to provide something, and tried to meet in the middle, so to speak. But like I said, we never even got close. I don’t think that what they provided was wrong or whatever. I mean, that was what they felt was in their best interests, and it was just not anywhere close to where we were, and how we felt, so this is why. That’s basically why we made the decision today. But we worked really hard trying to put something together and that was our intention from the start.

Q. Did you feel like DEI had become TEI in the vision that your father had was no longer the vision that that company was following? And have you talked with Teresa?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: As far as where the company is now and what my dad’s vision was for it, obviously, you know, if he were still here we would, I think I’d be in a different place right now. He was very good at ?? he was a great race car driver, but he was totally focused and devoted to the company and getting out of the company what he expected and for the most part he was able to do that. After he passed and as years went by, you know, it would be difficult for any one individual, much less a group of people to try to maintain that vision. Only he was ?? he was the only one that was really able to make it reality, you know, because when he was here he was able to do those things. Without him here, it’s much more difficult. It’s a much more difficult task. I believe DEI can still be successful as a functioning race team, and as a motorsports program. It may not have the ?? it may not be the exact thing that my father wanted, but I feel like it can be successful. I feel like Max is ?? Max Siegel’s going to be a huge asset to the company as he learns and develops and understands the business itself. I think when he starts moving and shaking, things will really start happening for that company, and that he can get out of it, I believe, what he expects.

Q. You’ve made it clear that you want to remain with Chevrolet, and you’ve made it even more clear that you want to win races and championships. There’s three Chevrolet teams that in recent years have really distanced themselves from the field, those being RCR, Hendrick and Gibbs. Is there another scenario out there other than those top three teams that you look around and say wow, that’s an appealing option?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, well, we’re going to listen to everybody. I’m going to want to hear what everybody has to say. That will help me form my opinion about each certain opportunity. I think you have to take the time to understand every aspect of each one opportunity to be able to make that decision correctly. I’m not going to sit here today and narrow it down before I even have a chance to understand what all is out there. I feel like I want to ?? like I said, I want to give myself the best chance where I can be most comfortable and feel like I can be as successful as I possibly can. I don’t want to make this decision or change again. I want to drive for a long time, and I want to be successful at doing it, and that’s going to be what I focus on over the next two or three months is trying to make that a possibility for me. I like Chevrolets. I love driving them. They’re an icon in the sport. And that’s where I feel like my heart is, and so we’re going to try to work in that direction.

Q. If I owned a team, what kind of offer would I have to make to turn your head?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Wow. You know, there’s ?? you know, if I can speak frankly, I think there’s not one team out there that’s going to lay a dollar figure in front of you that’s any different than anybody else. They all probably can do about the same, so the money’s not really the issue. It’s not the guy that gives me the biggest paycheck. It’s the person that I feel like will allow me to accomplish what I want to accomplish throughout my career on the racetrack, in this shop itself, with my employees and our company. It has to be something that will complement my efforts here. Because I feel like we will be able to do something to complement their efforts with our drivers and our mechanics as they improve and move up the ladder, it will provide whoever my employer might be, with some talent at the Cup level. It’s more about, you know, there are some things that you can’t get with money. You know, peace of mind and satisfaction in what do you every day and who you are and why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for. I’m seeking, you know, to have that peace of mind and that comfort to be able to really be an asset to somebody. So that’s what ?? I want to go somewhere, and really make some things happen for somebody and have that appreciation go back and forth there.

Q. This is for both of you, actually. I’m curious have you heard much feedback yet from your sponsors, and what have you told sponsors so far in terms of what the future holds?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: I think we’ve talked to sponsors over the last couple of days.

Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: Yeah, we’ve communicated to our sponsors the same thing that we’re communicating here today. We have relationships that stem from both sides from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and from JR Motorsports, and we jointly let those people know what was happening. Again, as Dale said, we haven’t sat down with each of those individually to see what their efforts are and what they want to do, what their plans entail. I’m sure that will happen as we continue to work with DEI through the rest of the year and continue to work with them on what the rest of the year looks like and how things play out for both companies. So we haven’t gotten there. We haven’t been there.

Q. Dale, I understand what you talked about and just certain things you want to find out of teams and want to be able to win, and what you want to do down the road. But a lot of people will automatically make the assumption or just kind of look ahead that Richard Childress Racing is the best opportunity for you. Give you the opportunity to drive the 3 car if you wanted it. So how would you address that specifically? People are saying it would be logical that you would just go to Childress for next season?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, there’s a lot of logical ?? there’s a lot of logical scenarios that people are going to put together. We saw ?? we’ve seen quite a few scenarios over the last couple of days that were kind of amusing. Some bright and some not so bright. But you know, I have a great relationship with Richard and I feel like on his behalf, that he stepped his programs up. He’s made a great effort to improve and be as good as his teams can be. But I don’t know whether ? I?ve got to do a little soul searching about how I feel about driving a No. 3 car. That doesn’t change my opinion of whether I would go drive for Richard or not. I don’t have to drive the No. 3 car. But I don’t personally know whether that’s what I want to do, specific to that number. I need to really sit down. Because like I said, I’m going to make this decision once. So I have to really ask myself if I want to be driving that number the rest of my career. With respect to my father, I don’t feel very comfortable with that. He made that number what it is. With respect to him, I believe that it belongs to him, you know what I mean? I never say never, and I’ve told you guys before that I was interested in doing that but later in my career, and I still feel like that. I still feel that way. If that’s something Richard’s interested in, we can explore that, but that’s a long way down the road. And again, I’m just going to, like I said, I’m going to listen to everybody who wants to talk and form my decision from those discussions.

Q. How much of your want to see what your father’s vision was through to fruition drug this thing on? Would you have possibly decided to move on quicker were it not for your loyalty to that vision?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Yeah, I think so. I drove for DEI my entire career. There’s something to be said for that, you know. There’s a lot of ?? there is a great bond there not only with the employees but with that vision, you know that my father had with the idea that we would win championships. You know, we showed up every weekend to sort of make that a reality. I really wanted to you know, have a larger, more personal interest in driving at DEI through the contract negotiations, we were unable to come to terms that would give me that. So, you know, I, yeah, we, you know, we danced around that bush for quite a long time I think the negotiations went deeper and longer and more in depth than naturally they would go with any other owner?driver. This is a unique situation, and so everything about it has been unique from day one. I guess it will continue to be that way. On my part I just have to get up here and handle it like I’ve ?? I just have to get up here and be myself and do it like I would want to do it. I take advice from my sister and take advice from people close around me. But when it comes down to it, this is my decision, and mine to make. And this is something that, like I said, I’m going to miss the employees. I’m going to miss the employees the most, some of the guys on my team that I may never get to work with again. I’m going to miss those relationships, and that’s probably going to be the toughest part about it. But you know, again, I’m excited about looking over the horizon and seeing what’s out there and seeing what great things and cool things that we can become involved in.

Q. We all know how loyal race fans are, and I’m just wondering are you concerned about fans being disappointed with the change? Especially if there is a car change, a Chevy to a Ford?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Well, I don’t think my fans have to worry about that part of it. I’m disappointed, So I expect my fans to be disappointed. Obviously, I know a lot of my fans wanted me to stay at DEI and continue driving for DEI, So I expect them to be disappointed in that aspect of it. Again, hopefully I can go accomplish the things that I want to accomplish and put on the show that I think I can put on. Give my fans more to celebrate. I feel like over the last year or two I’ve short changed my fans. They’ve been very loyal and stuck behind me when we haven’t been able to put up the results that we feel like we’re capable of doing. So I’m hoping to win some races and win some championships to give those guys what they paid all that money to go see us for.

Q. I guess the question I had for you earlier was more about what was missing at DEI from a competition level that you thought perhaps you couldn’t get to do the job you needed to get done? Or is there just other, better corporation suited competitively for you to use resources to work what you’re working at, which is championships and winning races?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: I feel like Tony Jr. is going to be one of the best crew chiefs out there when it’s all said and done. He’ll go down in the books as one of the best mechanics in the garage. I love my team, I love the guys that work on my team. We have great camaraderie. We all get along really well. A lot of them have been there for a while, and the camaraderie’s just gotten better over the years. I enjoy racing with them, and enjoy going to the track and racing with them. We run well. We’ve had fast cars every week. It really comes down to not so much today, but where I feel like I need to be and where I feel like DEI, what DEI’s direction is, and what their opinions on how they need to get successful. There was a difference there personally in those opinions. You know what I’m saying? So it wasn’t so much well, the motors ain’t fast enough or the cars ain’t good enough. That’s not necessarily the case. They’ve improved the engine shop quite a bit. Our open motors at Atlanta and Charlotte tracks are as on par with anybody else. But for me personally, I made this decision to put myself in a better position next year and down the road, you know. I want to contend for championships and win races. That’s never been any different than any other year. But also I’ve got my family to consider, as far as my ability. My ability to ?? my mom’s sitting here. I don’t feel comfortable telling you all this in front of her. But there will be a day when I have to take care of her financially and what not, for her to be able to live and have the life she wants. You know, there’s ?? I’ve got to put myself in a position to take care of the things that are going to need to be taken care of when I’m at that age and what not. And I feel like this is a way to go, you know? I feel like this is what I need to do personally.

Q. We don’t talk to Teresa. So maybe you can help us out and let us know whether you finally told her the decision. What was her reaction? Was she surprised? Did she see it coming, did she try to talk you out of it?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: She said she wasn’t surprised because she said she read it online last night. I think she is focused mainly on keeping the morale of all of the employees as high as possible. I think she is focused on what they need to do as far as looking for drivers, whatever they need to do to prepare for 2008. Sort of it’s unconventional to be able to be making these sort of changes and announcements and what not in the middle of the season. But to be prepared for 2008 for both sides, me and DEI, it has to happen. So I think that obviously I told her what my decision was and that it was final. She thanked me for what we’ve accomplished up to this point, and I told her and the employees that I appreciate everything they’ve done for me to make me who I am and to have the success I’ve had up to this point. I think that now she’s looking around the corner to do what she needs to do to prepare her company and everything there for 2008.

Q. So there’s a lot of speculation and wishful thinking amongst the fans. The decision is final. One of the teams you were talking to a last final ditch effort will not be DEI. And then I wanted to add to that, what conversations have you had with Rick Hendrick up until now?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: You know, we haven’t started working in that direction as far as who we’d like to drive for and what not. I’ve sought advice from several key individuals within the sport to get personal advice from people I consider friends. I think that the reason for this press conference was to address this as our final decision. So we’re just looking to move forward, me and my sister and all our employees here. We’re looking to move forward and see what we can develop into you know some success next season and beyond.

Q. For Kelley and for Dale, a lot of people are going to want to know why have this press conference today when you didn’t have the second half of this to announce? You’re not going to go here, but going here, that’s the two pieces. Why have this sort of press conference to say we know where we’re not going to drive, we don’t know where we’re going to drive. The timetable kind of situation of when did you come to this decision? Has it been days? Weeks, months, whatever. And why do this now? Because the question that Junior gets every day is going to stop being are you going back to DEI? Now it’s going to be where are you going? It’s the same number of questions, it’s just a different question?

Kelley Earnhardt Elledge: I think the biggest thing is the fact that you all know in this sport you don’t keep a secret very long. And as we have to move through the discussions with sponsors, employees and what not, you know, you can only tell so many people before the world knows. I think our fans deserve an answer on one of the questions that lay there, and that’s whether we would be at DEI or not. And now we can focus on what the next question is, and that’s where we’re going. But from a timing standpoint, you know, we could tell sponsors and work with DEI and all of that scuttle?buttle would get out there and be wrote about. And I think Dale and I both agree that we like as little rumor as possible, and as little discussion as possible when we know what we’re doing. We usually speak about what we’re doing and say what’s on our minds. So there should be no question that when we have the next steps unravel that we’ll have another announcement.

Q. You said you wanted to have a larger, more personal interest in the running of DEI. If you had ownership in running and were able to run DEI, do you think you would have been able to get them to a competitive level quickly? Or is the competition side and the ownership side two separate issues here?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: No. I mean, if you’re going to be the owner of anything, I think the competition is part of it, and that would be a part of your everyday activities within the shop and the employees. But DEI, you

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