Kerry Earnhardt plops down on the couch in the lounge of his transporter, wipes the sweat from his brow and shakes his head. It is just after 1 p.m., and the day has already been a long one for the driver of the Jani-King Chevrolet.
“Man, it’s hot,” says Earnhardt, who is competing in the NASCAR Busch Series this year. “We got started early today and really haven’t had a chance to slow down. I think the car’s going to be OK, but we’ve had some rough luck lately.”
Earnhardt, in his second season as a full-time Busch pilot, has spent the 2003 season struggling to get to the front. His best starting spot was 14th at Rockingham, and his best finishes were a pair of 14th-place spots at Daytona and Las Vegas.
“It’s just been one of those deals,” he says. “It seems like if there’s going to be a wreck on the track, we’re going to get caught up in it. We got caught up in wrecks at Darlington and Bristol. Hopefully, things will turn around for us.”
There are more than a few similarities between Kerry and his daddy, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Dale Sr. quit school and started a family, working factory jobs to put food on the table and spending his weekends racing short tracks. Kerry, too, quit high school, worked as a laborer and started a family. When he wasn’t on the job, Kerry would work on racecars, then take them to short tracks in North Carolina.
Divorced, remarried and father of three, Kerry is still trying to find his way in the high-tech, big money world of stock car racing.
The man sometimes known as “Middle E” didn’t break into racing until 1992, when he was 22 years old. He began driving street stocks against his half-brother, Dale Jr. and his half-sister, Kelly. He moved to the Goody’s Dash Series in 1993, grabbing eight top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
In 1994 Earnhardt started piloting Late Models at Hickory Motor Speedway near his hometown of Kannapolis, N.C. In 26 starts, he had one top-5 and seven top-10 showings, and he ended the year 10th in the points standings and recipient of Rookie of the Year honors.
After running select Busch races in 1998 and 1999, he tested the waters of the ARCA circuit. In 2000 he had one win and four top-5 finishes, and he made his Winston Cup debut at Michigan where he raced against Dale Sr. and Dale Jr.
This year Earnhardt has cut down on his efforts to make the field in Winston Cup events.
“We’re concentrating real heavily on Busch,” he says. “It’s a good series, and I think we have a shot to do well in it. But I just like to race.
“Some people complain about the Winston Cup guys who race in Busch, but this is where a lot of them got their start, so why not come back? There are a lot of times I wish I could go back to Hickory and race, because when you drive a racecar, you want to race whenever you get the chance.”
With Dale Sr. gone, Dale Jr. has picked up the mantle as superstar of the family. But none of that seems to matter to the man who is as content racing short track features on weekends as he is firing up his Busch Series car. For Kerry Earnhardt, just getting paid to race is reward enough. And if the wins start to come, so much the better.