Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a stunning $1 million bid of NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick as the country struggled with a recession

Dale Earnhardt Jr. earns his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame purely for his performances, starting with 26 Cup Series titles, including two in the Daytona 500, and a pair of Xfinity Series championships.

Earnhardt’s induction also reflects how he touched motorsport fans, but also recognizes his character. Fifteen consecutive years as NASCAR’s most popular driver counts for something, as does the shocking story Rick Hendrick told before the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shed light on the new NASCAR Hall of Fame class

Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes the stage during the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony on January 21, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The pandemic delayed the honor for a year, but three new members were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame during a 75-minute ceremony Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father was part of the first dedicated group in 2010, joined fellow pilots Mike Stefanik, posthumously inducted, and Red Farmer.

Earnhardt, 47, was the best known of the group. As someone who still appears on the Xfinity series every year, analyzes racing on NBC, and hosts a popular podcast as well as a TV documentary series, Earnhardt remains visible to his fans. He concluded his acceptance speech with a nod to “Junior Nation,” who embraced him from the start and never let go.

“When I tripped, you were there ready to pick me up,” Earnhardt said. “There were times when I absolutely needed you – and you never let me down. We won together and we lost together. … You should know that I don’t walk into this Hall alone of Fame. I’m going in with you, and I’m going in because of you.

Dale Earnhardt made a stunning million dollar request to Rick Hendrick

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. started out at Dale Earnhardt Inc., his father’s racing team. He won two Xfinity Championships, moved up the series, and won 17 NASCAR Cup Series races through 2007. At the end of that season, Earnhardt left DEI to sign with Hendrick Motorsports.

Earnhardt won once and finished in the top 10 another 15 times that first season with HMS, but the offseason brought serious problems. The housing market crashed around election time, precipitating the Great Recession. NASCAR teams, which need sponsorship from companies selling goods and services, have felt the effects. Several teams folded, downsized cars, and were otherwise streamlined.

Rick Hendrick took a hit on a second front: he made his millions selling cars, an expensive item that is no longer affordable to many. Earnhardt acknowledged the potential ramifications for the team in early 2009, and Hendrick told the audience in a pre-induction question-and-answer session how the then-34-year-old driver came up with a ‘to intervene.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Look, I don’t want anyone on my team to suffer. I’m going to take a million dollars out of my salary and I want to give it to the company to pay for my personal,” Hendrick recalled. “And I was like, ‘Dale, I’ve never heard anybody say anything like that.'”

Hendrick decided not to accept the offer. However, Earnhardt soon noticed that the money was not being deducted weekly.

“So he went to the office and said, ‘Take it off my check. I want to make sure that I take care of people. So it was the heart of Dale Earnhardt who looked after the people of the organization.

The driver hooked up with Rick Hendrick so quickly

The Q&A before Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Hall of Fame induction began with the oft-told story of his first contract negotiation with Rick Hendrick. Earnhardt dismissed talk of money and instead raised two issues. He wanted:

  • Helicopter access for races in Darlington and Martinsville, follows the few relish reaching by air or ground transportation.
  • The black plastic skirts of his cars are painted to match the paint scheme.

The two-hour meeting demonstrated how quickly the owner and driver hit it off, and the relationship only got better from there. When Hendrick needed a Next Gen car test driver at Daytona this month while Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott competed in the Chili Bowl Nationals, any of the roughly 20 potential candidates would have jumped on the job. ‘opportunity. Hendrick gave the keys to Earnhardt, who had not been in a Cup Series car for four years.

Earnhardt couldn’t resist.

“You are a product of the people you spend time with, in the environment you spend time in,” he explained to Hendrick. “So, I was just thinking about that. I’ve seen you do so many things. A lot of people in this room know some of them, but there’s a lot of things you do that aren’t made public, how you help people. … It’s a great example for people like me.

On Friday, the Hall of Fame had a message for Earnhardt: Thank you so much for being the representative of the sport that you are.

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