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Dale Earnhardt Jr. highlights NASCAR HOF class for vast impact on sport

By Adam Stern

DALE EARNHARDT JR. will be inducted into the NASCAR HOF Friday night at 8:00pm ET on Peacock Premium, and while he’ll go down as one of the most influential drivers of all time, he says that he didn’t realize the impact he was having during his career until he “noticed it in the rearview mirror.” The 47-year-old is easily the highlight of the three-person class as the 15-time winner of the sport’s Most Popular Driver award. He told SBJ that he’s had trouble taking in this accolade up to now but that he was starting to become emotional. Earnhardt on Thursday said, “My wife called me ambivalent this morning. With everything I’ve ever done, I was always used to knowing how to react and celebrate moments, but this one I don’t know because for people not comfortable being recognized, it’s a strange experience. But I’ve been super emotional reading reactions from people I’ve worked with.”

LARGER THAN LIFE: One of the main reasons Earnhardt was able to cross over to the mainstream, on top of being the son of NASCAR legend DALE EARNHARDT SR., was having big sponsors who activated him nationally and away from the race track. Budweiser, which was aligned with him when he raced at his father’s eponymous team, was perhaps the most notable example, as the Anheuser-Busch brand put him in Super Bowl ads and sent him to major sporting events across the country. Earnhardt told SBJ that he wishes he still had a deal with the company to this day, and that he and the brand “got a lot of things done from 2000 to 2004 -- we really grew the sport and introduced it to some people who didn’t watch the sport previously and a younger audience.” He also had major sponsorship deals with PepsiCo and its Mtn Dew brand, Nationwide insurance, Chevrolet and Wrangler jeans among others; he still retains a personal services agreement with Nationwide and Chevy and also has an endorsement deal with Bojangles. Looking back, Earnhardt recalled one personal highlight when he went to a convention for A-B alongside celebrities like TIM MCGRAWFAITH HILL and CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER. "Those were those, ‘How did I get here?’ moments," Earnhardt said.

KEEPING THE MOTOR RUNNING: Earnhardt is still an avid business man and entrepreneur; he’s a broadcaster for NBC Sports but he also owns the JR Motorsports NASCAR team and is an investor or co-owner in several ventures including the Filter Time air filter subscription service and the new vodka line he launched this week with Sugarlands Moonshine, High Rock Vodka. He also just signed on with TOM BRADY’s Autograph NFT company. Earnhardt: “All the things we’re doing today, I never expected. I thought when I retired, I just didn’t know what the opportunities would be, but I have a great brand team that navigates these waters really well. ... (I) have real skin in the game. So that’s what’s really exciting to me because you’re trying to create things to pass them down to generation after generation."

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