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Earnhardt Jr. still earning Dad's trust
'99 News
Dave Rodman, NASCAR Online

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to make his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut May 30 at Charlotte.

Loudon, N.H. (May 7, 1999)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a well-known computer racing game "addict" -- the more realistic the game the better. But Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway he relied on good old-fashioned hard work and gumption, not information gained from a game, to qualify 5th. His dad probably still won't easily let him borrow a boat, though.

"We're trying to improve in every way we can here," said Earnhardt, who only qualified 16th for this event a year ago and spun out trying to get onto pit road before finishing 10th. "We came here last year and struggled just a little bit in qualifying.

"We've come back with the same set-up, but with a little bit better team and hopefully a better driver. Maybe that'll make the difference."

But what about the boat? The subject came up in the NHIS media center, when Earnhardt met with a group of writers passing time waiting on a rain delay. He was asked about his schedule since he's risen to a "new level" in the sport, following his 1998 NASCAR Busch Series championship and highly-anticipated NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in little more than three weeks.

Earnhardt Jr. said he had mapped out planned days off for himself, on which he would not allow his representatives to schedule ANYTHING. He was then asked how he spent his time away from the race track.

"Dad's got a few old boats I can borrow, although he's a little worried about me being responsible," Earnhardt, 24, said of his father, seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt. "He's showed me about 20 times how to hook the trailer up to the truck.

"Now, I spent four years going to Myrtle Beach about every week with a wave runner, and here he's worried about showing me how to hook up the trailer to the damn truck!"

Make no mistake, the pride and respect for his father's accomplishments is apparent in everything his youngest son does. But their relationship still keeps "Lil' E" a bit off balance.

"I can't get him to race on any of the computer games," Earnhardt Jr. said softly, smiling. "Dad figures all that is a big waste of time."

"Yesterday I was trying to run with him some at Charlotte," he said of a GM Manufacturer's test at Lowe's Motor Speedway, in which Jr. was the fastest car of some 27 teams that tested. "Every time I went out on the race track when he was out there, he'd come right in the pits.

" I asked him about it and he said 'I'm trying to work on different set-ups -- I'm not here to race nobody.' Man, I just wanted to be on the same straightaway with him."

Until they get that chance, Earnhardt Jr. will continue to exercise on Papyrus' NASCAR Racing Online Series, which has been a pastime of his for years.

"Before I drove that 31 car at Watkins Glen, I spent two hours a night for a week on that game, and between that and the Bondurant school I improved my lap time by four or five seconds," Earnhardt Jr. said of his NASCAR Busch Series debut at WGI. "The game is so life-like and so similar to the real race track that you feel like you've already been there, even if you're going there for the first time."

But not at New Hampshire.

"Some tracks are real close, but some of them aren't and New Hampshire is one that's not," he said. His effort Friday came down to work.

"Last year we had carburetor trouble and we still came away with a 10th-place finish," he said. "I'd like to say I'd perform better this year now that we've learned a lot of things about our drop-snout cars. I was relatively green last year, but we've all gotten better. Winning? I don't know -- but I think we could be a competitive top-5 car."