DALE EARNHARDT Jr/No.88 Chevrolet is riding on a high like he’s never experienced before. The smile is almost a permanent fixture on his face everywhere he goes. From the moment he took the checkered flag after winning the 2014 Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race, he started thinking of how much fun would be the obligatory Media Tour which included a jam-packed schedule of visits, TV talk shows, TV and radio interviews, photo ops and the like. He said “NASCAR did a real good job of structuring out the tour. Every stop was enjoyable and its been a great week. Got a lot of rest and we are already to go here in Phoenix. Kind of everything resets and goes back to zero.”
Often the 500 winner comes to Daytona with just the clothing and apparel needed for the race weekend, and it’s a thrash to leave directly from the track for New York City to start the tour. Earnhardt gave all the credit to his much-appreciated girlfriend, AMY REIMANN, and her Charlotte co-worker KRISTIN HEINRICH, who just happened to be in NYC. “So on our flight Kristin was scrambling trying to put together some things judging by the schedule that I had. Everything was clean, and I never had to wear anything twice. Kristin did a great job. That is one of the perks of having such a good, dedicated girlfriend like that. I don’t know what I would have done without Amy and Kristin at that particular moment. I definitely wouldn’t have represented myself as well as I did this week.”
Earnhardt said he was touched by all the admiration and attention he received, everywhere he went and in between. “Just seeing the reaction for the fans that they get that much joy from it means probably the most. All kinds of things keep happening. BILL ELLIOTT is going to spot for me. How about that – that’s about 27 Most Popular Driver awards right there. (TJ, Earnhardt’s spotter is ill this weekend.) The only bad part about winning at Daytona is you go to Phoenix and somebody else wins the next race. But it would be nice if we had an off weekend there where it could keep going because so much great stuff happens to you during this week it’s been great.”
Another big story line this past week was Junior’s promise to start a Twitter account if he won the 500. He is perhaps the last holdout in the Cup garage regarding the instant form of social media. “I don’t know what I was thinking why I didn’t get on there earlier because it’s a great way to tell people things you appreciate. It’s instant. So I’m learning, taking all kinds of advice if anyone wants to give me advice if I get going in the wrong direction.
“I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s fun, it’s really fun interacting with the fans. I have a team (MIKE HOAG and LAURA SCOTT) who help me so I don’t look like an idiot. There’s still a lot of questions. But it’s been enjoyable to be able to plug in wherever you feel like it. I guess the hard part is there is so much coming at you that you miss a lot of stuff. It’s kind of like reading your fan mail. Back in ’04, ’03, ’02 Dad’s fan mail room was just piled. I’m like how do you decipher all that. It’s just a lot coming at you and you want to take it all in and you don’t want to miss anything?
“Throwback Thursday is pretty cool. I’ve got a photo stream on my phone that is like 500 old pictures of my Dad and RALPH EARNHARDT and JIMMY MEANS. There are a ton of people on that, but I got Throwback Thursday for years. I’m in good shape there. That is going to be fun.”
The Junior Twitter story line was so pervasive that most other drivers were asked for their comments. JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet is credited for getting Earnhardt on Twitter. “I, among many others, have been pushing him. Even people from Twitter have put pressure on him, and on me to put pressure on him over the years. It just wasn’t something he was interested in. As sharp as he is and as much time he spends in the digital world, I knew that when he got involved that he would love it and it would work well for him. He has the lingo down and is tagging people and replying pretty well. He didn’t enter as a rookie on Twitter in my opinion! All I did was explain to him how social media is the best way to show your value to sponsors. I just didn’t believe what I was reading in the Joyce Julius reports – the way they poll people, form an opinion and give me a value. It didn’t correlate. That’s what I explained to Junior – social media is a real-time, relevant way to show your relevancy and how you fit in the world. I think that really clicked in his mind and got him going.”
JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet weighed in also. “Seeing him on Twitter is something that a lot of us have been pushing him towards, ‘C’mon man, you can do it.’ I think winning the Daytona 500 is a great way to get that kick started so I applaud him on that. He’s done a great job this week. It looks like he’s enjoying it. I’ve never seen the guy with a permanent smile on his face like this before. To see how much it means to him to win that race, to be on top of the sport like he is and it be just genuinely comfortable with himself and confident, that’s very, very cool.”
Another really fun story line all week has been the prank Pepsi Max commercial with JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet. It was released Tuesday and instantly went viral. This is a sequel to the 2013 commercial which first aired at SuperBowl. Many thought it was a faked scenario – with Gordon posing as someone else and taking a person on a really wild, scary ride before revealing who he really was. And so, Friday, it was the very first topic of discussion, and the story was revisited often during the conference, with Gordon very enthusiastic in wanting to tell the tales.
“It’s been a fun week coming off the Daytona 500 finish and then knowing that Pepsi was going to be releasing this video. I’m so proud of them for believing in us and taking risk to step outside the boundaries and what they call maxing it out and they definitely did. The first one was so popular that Pepsi asked if we’d do another. Gordon agreed only if he could do all the driving. (There had been a stunt driver in the first commercial for timing purposes.)It was a lot of fun, but it was nerve wracking because we had one take to do that and pull it off. With the insurance, liabilities, waivers, logistics, etc, it was eight months in the making.
“I like good editing because they can make me look as good as I can look. Right before I picked up Travis we basically went through one run of how everything was going to go. I’m no actor, but I did the best I could and luckily the disguise helped me pull it off.
“Safety was the first thing on the list of concerns. Making sure that he/the passenger didn’t recognize who I was and we went through Jalopnik to get Travis there. The website had been one of the original skeptics for the first commercial.
“If Jalopnik hadn’t have been a part of it, this thing would have never happened. When I look at it, how we pulled this off is near impossible and the fact that we were able to pull it off and at the end of the day Travis had a big smile on his face finally was what made it so extraordinary. It was an adrenaline rush for me. An hour later I felt like I had just won the Daytona 500. We had a safe word, which was Nebraska. I had an earpiece where I could hear the crew talking, they could hear us and see video live of what was going on inside the car and so there was that moment, that if it got to that point we called that word and it all stopped and when I first took off and I hit about 80 miles per hour and he started kicking that glass, I came this close. I just knew that it’s all going to be over very quick and luckily when I opened that door and saw that smile on his face, it made it all worth it.”
“Safety was our first concern. I knew I had this guy’s safety in my hand. I’m not sure if you’ll ever see this kind of prank commercial done again. We can now laugh about it. We can now enjoy that the risk paid off.”
In describing why he did the commercial, Gordon said “I like stepping outside the boundaries. Looking back on the first video, and everyone really challenging us for fakery made us want to show how authentic this could be. It was a blast doing it. The response certainly speaks for itself. Wow, that was the most incredible thing I’ve done.”
And speaking of commercials, hot on the heels of Gordon’s coup came the bulletin of the upcoming Mobil 1 commercial with TONY STEWART/No.14 Chevrolet.