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Remember DEI? Dale Earnhardt Inc. Well, there's a new guy in charge....and a new Earnhardt in the on-deck circle

Jeffrey Earnhardt: is he ready for prime time NASCAR? (Photo: DEI)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Teresa Earnhardt.
   Dale Earnhardt.
   Senior. The Big E.
   You know the storyline here.
   The day the music died.
   Or was it the day Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the road, left the company his father built, and moved to another NASCAR team.
   Well, racing legend John Middlebrook, for years one of the titans at General Motors, and a man with a hotline to Daytona, though he may have officially retired from GM, is still very close to the sport. And Middlebrook, who retired last summer as GM's VP for global sales and marketing, was key in Teresa's decision to bring in Jeff Steiner to run DEI.
   That's a good reason to keep an eye on this new guy.
   Steiner says his job is "to get DEI back on track," with the initial goals of getting Jeffrey Earnhardt, the 19-year-old grandson of the late Dale Sr., on the Nationwide/Cup track, getting Martin Truex Jr. to sign a new Cup contract, and finding sponsorship for promising newcomer Aric Almirola.
   Of course the heart of this whole deal is for GM and Chevrolet to continue to leverage the Earnhardt legacy and not let it simply fade to black.
   Losing Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have been costly from a number of standpoints – mostly sponsorship. Without Junior as the anchor, DEI has struggled for sponsorships.
   So what was a strong four-car operation last season, with all four teams (then drivers Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, Regan Smith, Paul Menard, and Martin Truex Jr.)
   Jeffrey Earnhardt, getting seat time in NASCAR's Double-A touring series (Camping World East and West), is to make his NASCAR Nationwide tour debut in two weeks at Dover, in a DEI-built car. And that could be a defining afternoon both for him and DEI. He was supposed to debut at Dover last September…but he got 'grounded' for some bad behavior, and he's had to work on polishing his image, as well as his driving.

Jeff Steiner, the new boss at DEI (Photo: DEI)


When Junior split, some in the sport warned that the Earnhardts' GarageMahal, a couple miles west of Lowe's Motor Speedway, would be just a museum.
   And when Teresa Earnhardt, sponsorships drying up, was forced to merge with fellow team owner Chip Ganassi at the end of last season, essentially shutting down her solid-but-sponsorless four-team operation (all in the top-35 in the standings), it appeared the end of the line.
   Max Siegel, after a two-year stint at DEI as 'president of global operations,' left DEI in January. And it was unclear who was running the show. Or if there was even a show left to run.  The company's Army sponsorship went over to the Rick Hendrick satellite operation and Ryan Newman; Menard took his sponsorship over to Jack Roush's. Mark Martin left to go to Hendrick's; Almirola and Smith were cut loose, without sponsors. Truex' team was mergered with Ganassi.
    And what had been a major NASCAR operation, with 60 or so race cars, and engines galore, was all but suddenly defunct.
   Or so it appeared.
   Now Teresa Earnhardt has reshuffled the deck, brought in Steiner to run all DEI's business interests and find sponsorship to, in effect, rebuild DEI, which still has 250 employees.
   It may be a daunting task. But if Middlebrook thinks Steiner can do the job, then Steiner will very likely shake enough things up to make something happen.
   What's left at DEI?
   Steiner knows the story line out there – that DEI is withering on the vine and that there's nothing really going on at DEI any more.
   His job is not only to dispel that image but to change the dynamics at DEI, perhaps bring it back to glory.
   "People may think that, since Junior's gone, there's nothing else there," Steiner concedes. "But that's not the case at all.
   "What's the game plan? There are three focused areas:
   "Appropriate stewardship of Dale's legacy, through events and the Dale Earnhardt Foundation.
   "Putting together career plans for Jeffrey Earnhardt, and for Taylor Earnhardt – Teresa and Dale's daughter (now 20).
   "And running DEI's various businesses. Like Earnhardt-Childress Racing, doing race engines for 11 different teams, under Richie Gilmore. And Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, with our two Cup teams. Earnhardt Farms. And Champion Air.
   "The big thing that Teresa is concerned about is moving forward and protecting Dale's legacy.
   "People may think we're out of racing, but we're not. We've got these two strong ventures.
   "We formed this joint venture with Chip back in the fall, with Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya. Martin's contract is up for renewal; and this is a sponsorship-driven industry."
    Jeffrey Earnhardt, Steiner says, has indeed worked on his image. "Kerry (his father) and Renee (mother) have done a good job. We all went through that little 'rebel' thing in our teenage years," Steiner said. "And Jeffrey is still a teenager (until June 22).
   "But now he's very, very focused."
   Just how well focused the newest Earnhardt is may be one thing to watch for at Dover. His performance could be crucial to the next step for his own career and for DEI. He's lined up to run a dozen Nationwide races this season, but the precise schedule is still up in the air.
   "After Dover, we're looking at a number of races….and this is a sponsor-dependent business," Steiner says.  "So it's a partial-schedule this year, with the goal of a full-sponsored ride next season in a DEI car."
   …Another Earnhardt with a lot of weight on his shoulders…

Teresa Earnhardt (C) and family (daughter Taylor, left, and Kerry Earnhardt (C) with son Jeffrey: Ready to rebuild DEI? (Photo: DEI)




I have long been a fan of

I have long been a fan of Kerry's and have equally long been disappointed that DEI, Teresa, AND Junior didn't do more to help his career.

So it should be interesting

So it should be interesting to see how Junior and Jeffrey work together...

Kerry has wrecked almost as

Kerry has wrecked almost as many cars as the races he has entered them in. There is a reason he's not in the Cup Series. With his last name and who his daddy is, he's had a better opportunity than 99.5% of anyone else who's driven in the Nationwide Series to make it to Cup. I can't recall many races that I watched Kerry run in that he has not been invloved in a crash, and most of them were his own doing. These were not going-for-the-lead type crashes, either. Wreck that much equipment and no owner in his right mind is going to hire you. Sponsors soon realize that the wrecks are not worth the last name.

I hope Jefferey is allowed to develope and not rushed up to the Cup Series. If he has talent, he still needs ample time to hone it. Since the cars are so different between Nationwide/ARCA and Cup now, owners will be more eager than ever to throw someone who is not ready into a Cup ride because driving the Nationwide cars is no longer a direct translation. These kids still need to see the bigger tracks and drive them several times at some level before being thrown to the wolves.

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Kerry can't race, period. He

Kerry can't race, period. He showed that throughout his "career." To think he can suddenly become a real driver now is ludicrous. He had no career for Junior or Teresa or anyone else to help.

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