In what SportsCenter reporter Marty Smith called “the most revealing interview I’ve ever heard from him,” NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife Amy sat down with Smith for a two-part piece that will air in the 10 a.m. ET hour on the Saturday and Sunday editions of SportsCenter.
Earnhardt will compete in the Feb. 25 Daytona 500, his return to racing in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series following a lengthy layoff due to concussion-like symptoms. Selected by fans as the Most Popular Driver in NASCAR’s top series for 14 consecutive seasons, Earnhardt missed the second half of 2016 after crashes at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
Smith, who has known and covered Earnhardt since 1998 and covered his entire career in NASCAR’s top series, conducted the interview with producer Michael O’Connor on Earnhardt’s North Carolina farm. Cameras were set up on an indoor basketball court Earnhardt calls the “Dirty Dome.”
“I’ve known Dale for a long time, seen him grow and evolve as a man, seen insecurities of his disappear and the most confident, joyful version of him emerge,” Smith said. “A lot of that is Amy’s influence. She taught him that vulnerability is ok. She showed him unconditional love, and proved it by walking through the darkness with him, personally and professionally. We touched on all of those things during this interview. It was very revealing.”
This excerpt offers a glimpse of that:
Earnhardt Jr.: “The first thing you think is I may never drive again. And the reason why you say that is because of how bad you feel and because your eyes don’t work and because you can’t stand up you never want to be in that position again. And so your initial reaction is I don’t want to be like this. So I’m never going that to put myself in that position.
Smith: You just want to live.
Earnhardt: Yeah. And you know when I told my doctor when I first went to evaluate I said all I care is that when I get married I don’t have any symptoms. I don’t want a foggy brain not being to remember anything. I don’t want to have balance issues worried about falling over them, stumbling over my own feet. I want my eyes to work right.”
SportsCenter will have reports from Daytona this weekend from analyst Ricky Craven and Smith will report during race week.
More Junior in The Mag
ESPN The Magazine’sEntertainment Issue, on newsstands today, also features “A Racing Mind,” an in-depth piece on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by contributing writer Tommy Tomlinson, who spent extended time with Earnhardt, and reports that the driver thinks he’s found himself and has become a better man during his time off from racing. As he prepares to return at Daytona, his focus is on slowing down and becoming a better person while still keeping the edge it takes to survive on the track.
“Dale is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever covered, inside sports or out,” Tomlinson said. “We’re all complicated people, but he has had to sort out those complications in public his whole life. He was open and generous with his thoughts in the time we spent together. I’m proud to be able to tell a little piece of his story.”
– By Carrie Kreiswirth
Journalism on Display
Sunday’s Outside the Lines (9 a.m. ET, ESPN) tells the story of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the former Denver Nuggets guard who protested the anthem 20 years before 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The former NBA player, who converted to Islam in 1991, says participating in the anthem was in conflict with his Muslim faith and that his decision to protest impacted his personal and professional life. Since Kaepernick’s protest against racial oppression and police brutality, Abdul-Rauf has been thrust back into the spotlight. Outside the Lines reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada interviews Abdul-Rauf to hear what his life was like then – and now.
Senior writer Pablo S. Torre writes “LeBron: The Sequel” in ESPN The Magazine’s Entertainment Issue. Torre writes that James’ first act of becoming one of the greatest basketball players in history is all but settled as a success. However, his second act – to become a global entertainment icon – is just beginning. Torre takes readers through the journey from the basketball star LeBron to the entertainment star LeBron.
Sunday’s SC Featured segment on SportsCenter will tell the story of Daniel Suarez, who made history in 2016 as the first foreign-born champion in one of NASCAR’s national series when he took the title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This year, with the unexpected retirement of Carl Edwards, the native of Mexico was named as his replacement and was suddenly thrust into a higher-profile role in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He will make his debut in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 28, as Mauricio Pedroza reports. The story will debut in the 10 a.m. edition of SportsCenter on Sunday and will re-air in other editions of the program throughout the day.
Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN) will be Mike Lupica (host), Mitch Albom, William C. Rhoden and Bob Ryan.