Earnhardt, Childress teams driven apart
By Chris Jenkins, USA TODAY
One sensitive development since Dale Earnhardt's death in February 2001 has been the dissolution of an alliance between Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI), the team Dale owned, and Richard Childress Racing (RCR), the team for which Dale drove.
The teams used to work together closely on technical issues and still consult each other occasionally, but seem to have drifted somewhat apart in Dale's absence.
Teresa Earnhardt, Dale's widow, says she and Childress don't spend a lot of time talking to one another, "but we do stay in regular contact because we have a lot of common interest. He's a very close relation."
Asked if DEI and RCR are more rivals than allies at this point, she says, "I don't know about that."
Childress says the alliance was dissolved not because of tension between the teams, but because the third team that was involved in the alliance, Andy Petree Racing, had financial problems and no longer goes to most of the races.
"Our people still talk, we just don't have a written alliance," says Childress, who still takes his family on vacation in the Bahamas along with Teresa and her family every July.
"It's definitely not a rivalry. If none of our three cars can win, then I'm pulling for Dale Jr."
Another dynamic that has caused some tension in the garage area is the close relationship between NASCAR officials and DEI. Waltrip says NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. and Dale "had almost a father-son relationship. I think that in some ways, Mr. France would think it was his responsibility and his obligation to Dale because of their close relationship to watch out for" his team.
Privately and occasionally in public, members of rival teams wonder if DEI gets preferential treatment from NASCAR, from favorable decisions from officials to getting corporate sponsorships steered its way. Some think DEI is granted more leeway with rules governing technical specifications of cars than other teams, a charge laughed off by NASCAR officials.
NASCAR President Mike Helton, one of Dale's closest friends, notes that penalties are issued to DEI just as with other teams. "What DEI has done, they've done on their own, just like others have. They've created their own successes."
Earnhardt says she and the team haven't been handed anything. "We work for everything we have. We work hard for it. It's available to anyone. Go for it."