Life used to be simpler for Dale Earnhardt.
If he wasn't racing, he could spend his time driving a tractor around his farm or fiddling with a car in his garage.
It's not like that any more for the 49-year-old Intimidator, business owner and superstar. But his gotta-do-it-all approach and his goals remain the same as his early days.
At an age when others are retired or thinking the time is near, Earnhardt's still running hard and deep into corners. There's just a business ledger or a pending contract on the seat next to him.
"As you get more involved and get more things going on in your life, things get more busy," said Earnhardt, third in the Winston Cup standings, 205 points behind leader Bobby Labonte. "To focus on a championship and focusing on racing is a lot different than we used to do it."
There are sponsors to court, crew chief Kevin Hamlin to plan with, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. race teams of his son Dale Jr. and Steve Park to manage, and a life to lead.
"I guess that's the price you pay to make $40 million," racing Hall-of-Famer Buddy Baker said, joking.
Earnhardt hasn't slowed any part of his crowded life.
"I'm the kind of guy, I want to know everything," he said. "I want to know if there's an unhappy employee somewhere. I want to know what the balance is at the end of the day. If I know what's going on, then I can help in some way or control it."
After finishing fourth at the goracing.com 500 in Bristol on Aug. 26, Earnhardt flew to Florida the next morning to tend to the sale of his 74-foot fishing boat and check on a house he's building in southern Florida.
He and his wife, Teresa, returned to Mooresville, N.C., the next day to get 11-year-old Taylor ready for school. Earnhardt had to check his car dealerships and hold a manager's meeting, discuss his Darlington race set-up and plans for the No. 3 Richard Childress Chevrolet with Hamlin, and talk to officials with Park's and Dale Jr.'s teams.
"You may get to bed by midnight and then you're up at 5 a.m. to start the whole thing again," Earnhardt said.
And what about Sundays?
"That's about the most fun you have, the kind of time you work for," he said.
Earnhardt is a capable boss who can be intimidating but also understanding, Park says.
"Sometimes if you get a half-smile from him, you know you're doing good," Park said. "If you do something wrong, you're out on the farm on a tractor baling hay in the hot sun."
Dale Jr. and Park have had success for Dale Earnhardt Inc. this year. Earnhardt's son has won at Texas Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and The Winston all-star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Park won his first race in three years with Earnhardt last month in Watkins Glen, N.Y. They've also combined for three poles this year.
The elder Earnhardt said he expected Park to win sooner and Dale Jr.'s triumphs to take more time. He enjoys working with both young drivers, but is gratified that his son is showing racing talent as he learns how to compete in Winston Cup.
"He's got a lot of work to do understanding and handling the pressure of the day," Earnhardt said. "The pressure of the day takes it out of you."
The pressure took a toll on driver Ricky Rudd, who sold his own team after last year to race for Robert Yates.
"You don't even realize it until you aren't doing it," Rudd said. "You get to have a life."
Rudd now has the time to take 6-year-old Landon to school.
Earnhardt said his wife handles some of the business pressures of a corporation with nearly 300 workers, leaving him to chase a record eighth Winston Cup championship.
"Then I can start working on nine," he said.
To get a title this year, Earnhardt knows he'll need some luck and Labonte and second-place Dale Jarrett to slip-up. He didn't get it at the Southern 500 as Labonte only led 10 laps yet was in front when the last of several rainstorms ended the race.
"We're just going to keep chipping away," he said. "It's not over."
Even if Earnhardt comes up short, he'll be at Daytona next February to try again.
"The bottom line is, I'm still excited about driving race cars," he said. "I still want to win."
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