CONCORD The glass doors to Dale Earnhardt Jr.s hauler open and a public relations representative summons me inside.
Tell him were out here, says a man visiting Charlotte Motor Speedway from New York. He and his buddy stand outside and hope for an autograph.
Earnhardt, 38, offers me his hand. He wears jeans, white sneakers, a National Guard T-shirt and a close-cropped beard.
I tell him I saw video of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III at the teams Organized Team Activities workout. The Redskins are the team Earnhardt saw on Sunday afternoons when he grew up outside Charlotte. Earnhardt is loyal to them.
Earnhardt: Well, I just want him to get healthy, first and foremost. And to have a good long career and just make a lot of good choices out on the football field. Youre going to have games you win and games you lose. But you want to be around a while.
Q. Who will have the better season and career RGIII or Carolinas Cam Newton?
Well, I hope RGIII does.
Q. What kind of season are you having?
Im pretty happy. Weve had some really good cars and theres a real sense of calm and confidence that weve been building up throughout the last two years. Last year we ran really good, too, but there was this urgency and nervous tension all the time to keep it going, to sustain this, this competitiveness.
Its a lot more comfortable (this season). I think the confidence is there so you show up every weekend knowing youre going to run good and the cars going to be fine and not have any major issues and just focus on what those last few pieces are to win. So its going real good. Im really happy.
Q. What part of your job makes you happiest?
Just the freedom to have a little bit of control over what you do every day. Ive worked a real job and you dont have that freedom. Youve got to be there at a certain time, you get to take lunch for a certain time, you cant be 10 minutes late. I probably had a half dozen real jobs.
Q. What was the toughest?
The toughest job was working at the dealership.
Q. Youre Dale Earnhardt Jr. You worked at Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. How tough could it be?
Man, I got no respect over there. I mean there were a lot of guys in the service department, mechanics, I got along with. Management kind of hated me and I dont know why. We just didnt get along.
Earnhardt was 18 to 22-years-old at the time.
I think that they just didnt take me seriously. Of course I was late. I wasnt the best worker. I wasnt the most dependable guy. But I was there, I did my fair share of (messing around). But, you know, Im an easy person to get along with and I dont think that I was being a prima donna or anything. I just didnt get along with management. Nobody seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
Q. What do you enjoy? Do you go to movies? Rent them?
I rent a lot of documentaries. I really like documentaries because youre seeing something real. So I Google to find the best ones, and which have the best ratings. Its mostly a lot of stuff I would never have heard of.
I watched one called Deep Water where all these guys were building yachts to circumnavigate the globe back in the 60s, single-handed, like on solo missions. And this guy whod never done this and had no experience bought a boat and he went crazy, like berserk, out there. And then they found the boat, I think, on the coast of Brazil on some island. Its awesome.
Q. Did they find the guy?
No. He dies. He killed himself, I think. You need to watch it. Its really freaky.
Q. Could you do that, take off on a great adventure?
Not comparable to the film because the films freaky. But nothings funner than a road trip. Nothings funner than, hey, lets go. We used to do that. One of the funnest off weeks I had, we got a tour bus and we went city hopping. We went to Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Louisiana. We (eight or 10 buddies) just rode around, we had a bus driver, and we just would party all night and get on the bus. And hed drive us to the next city, wed wake up, take a shower and party all night.
Q. Could you do that now?
I could do that tomorrow if we had the time off.
Q. OK. You have a bus, a driver and the next two weeks off. Where do you go?
Id drive to Key West. I got a house down there and I fly down but Ive never made the drive.
Q. How will you spend Memorial Day?
Me and my family are going to get together and were going to barbeque all day. Once the race is over well go home and work on the brisket and inject it and all that stuff and put it in the refrigerator. And me and a buddy will start working on it at 9 in the morning and eat around 6.
Earnhardt studies brisket. He might have a brisket documentary.
Its just like working on old race cars. It reminds me of what it used to be like to work on a late model, doing things at the right time, getting things ready, kind of like loading a car up and taking it down to Myrtle Beach to race.
Earnhardt smiles when he talks about racing in Myrtle Beach.
Q. Do you ever wish you werent so well known and could just head down and race?
I think thats how Ill wind my career down. If I have the wherewithal and the financial ability Id like to go back to Nationwide then eventually back to late model and drive until Im in my 50s and 60s.
Back in the late model days you raced with your friends. Nobody had to really know anything. Nobody had to be perfect. Preparing the car was relatively simple; theyre really easy cars to work on. You take it down there, you run a feature, youre in and out and its not a whole weekend, its half a day.
You have fun. The track is kind of one big family. You see the same people every week. Its just a really simple way of doing things.
That would be the perfect way.