Earnhardt Nation - A Full Throttle Saga Of NASCAR'S First Family

Earnhardt Nation: The Full Throttle Saga of NASCAR'S First Family, is a must read for any NASCAR fan young or old. From the humble beginnings of Johannes Ehrenhart, a German migrant to the Earnhardt's of today, this book covers it all. Every dynasty comes to an end...but this is just the beginning.

Below are some excerpts from the book "Earnhardt Nation", by Jay Busbee. I was privileged to receive a pre-release copy before the February 16th release date, and was asked to share some of the highlights of the book with my readers. Check out Jay Busbee's Page here for more information about the author and a link to order the book. Enjoy!

Kannapolis, North Carolina was a mill town. Lint heads, the residents were called, because the factories produced cotton for use by housewives all across the country. Thirty miles from Charlotte, it began life as a company village where you worked for the mill, the mill paid for your house, your lights, mowed your lawn - the mill was your life. And then there was Concord, where you grew up, had everything handed to you on a silver platter and were groomed to take over your dad's company when you became of age. Kannapolis is where the Earnhardt story begins.

Ralph Earnhardt, Dale Sr's dad, was born in 1928, the second of 4 sons. Most boys his age lived a predictable life - work, school, family. Ralph dropped out of school in the 6th grade to work at the mill, punching a clock until he broke out of his rut by supplementing his mill income by working night shifts as a local mechanic. In 1949, he laid down a concrete floor in an old barn on his property, bought a few tools, and presto, he had a racing garage. 

Racing in the south before NASCAR wasn't organized or pretty. News of races traveled by word of mouth. Race promoters would fill the stands, collect the monies and skip town. Generations of drivers had perfected their racing skills by bootlegging liquor, and invented the bootleggers turn - a 180 degree spin achieved by slamming on the brakes and twisting the wheel to avoid hot pursuit. The arrogance and courage it took to get behind the wheel, risking destruction and imprisonment, helped spawn the legend of the Great American Race Car Driver. 

Now enter a driver by the name of Bill France. A tall, tough, impossible man with a silver tounge. He wasn't the best driver by a long shot. He had an entrepreneurial soul, a promoters eye, and a dictators will.  He decided to organize racing in the region with the creation of the National Championship Stock Car Circuit. He organized the events, paid the drivers, and gave Fonty Flock a $1000 check at the end of the season. France then gathered drivers, car owners, and mechanics at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach on December 14, 1947.

Dale Earnhardt was born April 29, 1951, and according to his mother, "from the day he could ride a bicycle or tricycle, he wanted to be in front." Dale would sit in school, looking at the clock and counting down the seconds until he could get home and help his dad in the shop. Dale made it to the 9th grade before dropping out of school. 

One day in 1953, Ralph announced to his wife Martha, a basketball player he met at a high school game, that he wanted to quit his job and wanted to race full time. Martha though he lost his mind, and threatened to leave him and take their kids, 2 girls and 3 boys, and leave him for someone more stable and level-headed. 

Dale's first car was a beat up old 1956 Ford Victoria, previously owned by his neighbors. An avocado color was attempted to be painted on to match the awesome purple metal flake roof, but the car dried pink. He ran the car in 1970 at his very first race at Metrolina, a dirt track not too far from Charlotte Airport.  Ralph and Dale Sr shared the track just once. In a memorable 1972 race at Metrolina, Dale and other semi-modified drivers were invited to join a race Ralph was already entered in. Dale was in 4th place, and needed a 3rd place finish for a payday. Word has it, and this has not been proven to this day, that Ralph made his way around the track to the back of Dale's bumper and pushed him hard past another driver. 

In 1971, Dale would marry Brenda Gee, daughter of  NASCAR builder Robert Gee. Dale worked as a welder, a mechanic, doing anything to earn enough money to buy parts for the next race. At 24, Dale had a wife, and exwife, a son he rarely saw, a 3 year old daughter named Kelly, and an infant son named Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt quit his last real job at Punchy Whittaker's Wheel Alignment, and was asked what he was going to do? Dale said "I'm goin racin".

Dale met Theresa Houston in 1978, the daughter of car owner Hal Houston, whom Dale drove for at Martinsville in 1978. They married November 14, 1982. Teresa taught dale to drink wine, how to talk, dress, and how to soften up, to not be so much of a hardass. In 1986, Dale's earnings topped seven figures, and Theresa and nannies raised Dale's kids. Kelly and Junior rarely saw their mother, and Kelly looked out for her younger brother in every way possible. 

When Dale Jr was 16, he had a black and silver 1988 Chevy S10 4x4, and he drove it everywhere he could at top speed. One night, after leaving his dad's farm after an argument. he headed back towards Mooresville and got pulled over by a state trooper. Dale Sr rode by slowly and deliberately, almost taunting Dale Jr as he was waiting for his ticket to be issued. Later he met his dad at a gas station down the road, and Dale Sr. asked "Did he write you a ticket?" Junior nodded. "Looks like you need to get a job to pay for it". And that's how Jr got a job pumping gas. 


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports, for which he has covered the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl, the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, the NCAA Final Four, and the Indy 500, as well as the college football, NBA, and Major League Baseball postseasons. He has appeared on ESPN, CBS, MSNBC, SiriusXM, and ESPN Radio, and he is the co-host of the Grandstanding podcast.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary and the writing program at the University of Memphis, he lives in Atlanta with his family.