Hendrick Motorsports announced in an April 25 tweet that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be retiring from NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season.
Earnhardt Jr. spent 18 seasons racing in the Cup Series with 603 career starts and 26 wins on the circuit. He started racing in the series in 1999 and was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 times by fans. He won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014, the same race and track where his father, Dale Sr., was killed.
He died after a hard, head-on crash against the retaining wall on the final lap of the 2001 race after he made contact with Ken Schrader.
Dale Sr. was officially pronounced dead at a nearby hospital shortly after the crash. He was survived by Dale Jr. and his other son Kerry as well as his daughters Kelley and Taylor.
Dale Sr. had three wives in his lifetime, marrying his first — Latane Brown — in 1968 at the age of 17. They divorced three years later and he married his second wife, Brenda Gee, in 1971. Dale. Jr. was born to the couple in 1974, but they divorced shortly after that. He got married to his third and final wife, Teresa Houston in 1982.
Over the years, Dale Jr. hasn’t been the biggest fan of his stepmother, Teresa. They have had numerous feuds that have wound up in the public eye after Dale Sr.’s death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Teresa & Dale Jr. Were At Odds for Years Over Dale Sr.’s Racing Company
Dale Sr. formed a racing company known as Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 1998. Despite owning the racing team, Dale Sr. never once drove for them in the Winston Cup, where he won seven championships.
After Dale Sr.’s death at Daytona, Teresa inherited the company and was almost immediately at odds with one of the team’s top drivers — and her stepson — Dale Jr.
In 2006, when questioned about taking over the company, Dale Jr. seemed tame in his desire to do so saying that it will be discussed when the time comes.
“I’d love to take over DEI,” he said before the 2006 season. “Me and Teresa will talk about that when the time comes. We’ll talk about that before the time comes, but that’s not in the near future.”
Things turned especially sour in 2007 when Dale Jr. went public with a brewing family feud. He said that he wanted majority ownership of the company and his stepmother was preventing that from happening.
Several other NASCAR drivers were outspoken about Teresa after Dale Jr. provided an update as to their rocky relationship.
Kevin Harvick called Teresa a “deadbeat owner,” adding that Dale Jr. “deserves the respect of being a grown man and not being treated like he’s 15 and somebody’s stepson.”
The strong words come after Teresa opened up in a December 14, 2006 Wall Street Journal story. She said that the “ball was in (Dale Jr.’s) court to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality.”
2. Dale Jr. Left the Racing Team In 2007
Dale Jr.’s contract with Dale Earnhardt Inc. expired in 2007, and Teresa and the company were unable to retain him — most likely because of the animosity that went public between the two.
Earnhardt said in May 2007 after his contract expired that “we’ve decided it’s time for us to move on and seek opportunities to drive for another team in 2008.”
DEI was the only racing team that Dale Jr. had driven for in his career. He cited his father making his “final and most important career decision” at the age of 32 as part of the reason he wanted to look elsewhere and contend for championships.
“I believe I’d have my father’s blessing,” he said, adding that it wasn’t about the money, rather “peace of mind and satisfaction.”
Just one month later, Dale Jr. signed a five-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports
3. After Dale Jr. Left, DEI Lost Sponsors & Ended Up Defunct By 2014
After the well-documented power struggle between Teresa and Dale Jr. ended with the driver leaving the company, major sponsors fled, too.
Not before long, the racing team was no more.
Due to the financial hardships, Teresa opted to merge DEI with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009 and form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
But from then on, Teresa withdrew an increasing amount from being active in racing, though she continued to oversee the souvenir/business side of things that memorialized Dale Sr.
In 2014, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing dropped the name and reverted back to its former name, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Ganassi said in 2014 that he decided to put an end to whatever relationship he had with Teresa because she was never around. He said that there were no hard feelings or tensions for the split, it was simply that she wasn’t as involved as he would have liked.
I wish I could explain it but I can’t explain it. I don’t have a good answer for you. We had a relationship and I don’t know what happened. We can’t get her on the phone; it’s hard to try to communicate with somebody. She obviously has some other things on her plate, I guess, and that’s her prerogative. She was never active in the team. I think she wanted to keep the name out there to some extent, and I don’t know what Richard’s (Childress) relationship is there (Earnhardt), but it’s kinda the same thing. There’s no ill will, I just don’t have an answer, to tell you the truth. She just wasn’t there anymore.
4. Teresa & Dale Jr. Have Had a Rocky Relationship Since He Was a Kid
Teresa and her stepson had another spat in 2006 when it was reported that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s name was in fact owned by her.
That meant that in order for Dale Jr. to use his name in licensing and endorsement deals, he had to be granted permission by Teresa. ESPN pulled up records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which showed that as soon as Dale Sr. died in the 2001 crash, the rights to his son’s name were transferred to his estate, and Teresa was the executor of his estate. She transferred the rights to his name to his dad’s trust and then to herself.
In June 2006, Dale Jr. told NASCAR.com that he and Teresa agreed to terms on transferring the rights to his name back to him.
The feud between the two seemed to simmer down briefly after the three years of negotiations came to an end. But when the two got into the public contract dispute, Dale Jr. admitted that his relationship with Teresa had always been lackluster since he was a kid. He said the relationship with Teresa “ain’t a bed of roses,” adding that it “has always been a very black-and-white, very strict and in-your-face.”
“The relationship we have today is the same relationship we had when I was 6 years old when I moved into that house with Dad and her,” Earnhardt said in a January 2006 interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “It hasn’t gotten worse over the last couple of years or couple of months…the way I felt about her then is the way I feel about her now.”
5. In 2016 Dale Jr. Spoke Out When Teresa Tried to Stop His Brother From Using the Earnhardt Name
The public disagreements between Dale Jr. and Teresa disappeared from the public eye for a few years. But they resurfaced in 2016 when it was reported that Teresa wanted to keep the last name “Earnhardt” from her stepson Kerry’s home design and furniture business. Kerry left racing altogether and had started up a business with his wife, Rene.
A report from ESPN said that the “Earnhardt Collection” of homes to be built by Schumacher Homes as well as furniture that’s part of the Earnhardt Collection brand was disallowed by Teresa. She filed an appeal in April 2016 over a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling that denied her initial challenge.
In a statement issued to ESPN, Kerry Earnhardt said he and his wife worked hard to develop the business.
Rene and I have worked extremely hard to develop the Earnhardt Collection brand and make it uniquely ours. I chose to leave a successful career in racing and could not be happier with what we’ve been able to achieve in the five years we’ve been building our home lifestyle brand inspired by our love of the outdoors.
But Kerry didn’t always have the Earnhardt surname. He moved in with his mother when he was 3-years-old and said in a testimony to the Trademark and Trial Appeal Board that Dale Sr. later helped him get the Earnhardt name back when he was 16-years old.
It isn’t just Dale Jr. and Kerry that seem to have a problem with Teresa, either. Their sister and stepsister Kelley wrote in a May 6, 2016 tweet that she is upset the family has to consistently deal with “this nonsense.”
A few weeks after the story surfaced, Dale Jr. spoke out to The Miami Herald. He said that he is “in support” of his brother Kerry in the battle.
“This is a business venture that he’s put a lot of effort and heart and soul in that I think he deserves,” Dale Jr. told The Herald. “So in this particular case, I side with my brother and his belief to be able to use the name as is -– without any alterations or changes.”
But Teresa moved forward with a lawsuit against Kerry, arguing that using the Earnhardt name on the homes “could deceive or confuse customers” to make them thing that the homes are somehow endorsed by Dale Sr.
The appeal had an oral argument March 10, with the judge hearing both sides of the arguments. To listen to them, hit play on the video below:
Teresa’s lawyer used examples from previous cases involving furniture companies. A judge in the appeal told Teresa’s lawyer that they’re going to get the same result every time they appeal the case.
If we’re going to be this nitpicky and send it back you’re just going to get the same result. They’re going to go through this evidence and say ‘collection’ is not merely descriptive of custom homes. If you know what the goods are. If know you know what’s being sold is furniture and you see ‘Earnhardt Collection’ then it’s not far of a leap to say ‘Collection’ in this case, means ‘furniture’.
A verdict on the appeal to the lawsuit decision is still pending.