Earnhardt family says ESPN movie inaccurate
The Associated Press April 29, 2004
4:59 PM EDT (2059 GMT)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- An ESPN movie about NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt has become one more trouble spot for family members trying to protect his legacy.

Dale Earnhardt Inc., the Mooresville-based company run by Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, hasn't endorsed the film, claiming the movie is inaccurate.

"Our job at Dale Earnhardt Inc. is to perpetuate what Dale was all about,'' said DEI spokesman Steve Crisp, adding that the company is reviewing a second copy of the script. "To accurately do that, you have to stick with the facts.''

TV moviemakers since mid-April have spent time in the Cabarrus County neighborhood where Earnhardt grew up. They've filmed at local red-clay race tracks. They have held open casting calls in Concord to add local flavor.

Thousands of fans -- and an ESPN film crew -- were expected to be in Mooresville on Thursday for what would have been the Intimidator's 53rd birthday. Gov. Mike Easley declared the date was declared "Dale Earnhardt Day'' in North Carolina.

Cathy Watkins, one of Dale Earnhardt's sisters, said the script she's seen gives the wrong message about her father and her childhood. For example, the movie portrays Earnhardt's childhood home in Kannapolis as a mill house.

But Watkins said her father, Ralph Earnhardt, never worked at Cannon Mills after his children were born, and her family never lived in a mill house.

"That's a blatant disregard for my daddy's accomplishments and career,'' she said. "My whole family is so disturbed about it, and we don't know what to do.

"ESPN is very credible. We respect ESPN. But I'm very concerned about this movie because the facts they have written are not accurate.''

Producers of the movie say they're being true to Earnhardt and his legacy.

"This isn't a documentary. It instead is a movie that is a dramatic presentation telling the story of Dale Earnhardt,'' said Will Staeger, executive producer of ESPN Original Entertainment. "We feel we have a pretty good grasp of the essence of the man.''

Dale Earnhardt, a Kannapolis native, has long been a hero to people who admired his grit, determination, competitiveness and loyalty to his small-town roots.

But since he died at Daytona in February 2001, the quest to protect his legacy has taken some rough turns.

In spring 2003, the city of Kannapolis tried to figure out whether it could promote a statue of its native son without Teresa Earnhardt's permission. Before the issue was resolved, the city and DEI were speaking to each other only through lawyers.

The city was raising money from NASCAR teams and corporations, and Teresa Earnhardt worried that the statue would become commercialized.

ESPN is midway through filming the movie, scheduled to air Dec. 11. Although they've taken some dramatic license, producers say they've paid special attention to staying true to the gist of Earnhardt's story.

"The crew is emotionally motivated. This is a story they know. Many of them knew Dale, or knew Ralph,'' said producer Lynn Raynor. "Many are still involved in racing cars. Emotionally, they're putting out 110 percent because the movie means something to them.''

The movie stars Barry Pepper, who played baseball great Roger Maris in HBO's "61,'' as Dale Earnhardt. To prepare, Raynor said, Pepper spent two days at Lowe's Motor Speedway learning how to drive race cars.

Elizabeth Mitchell ("The Santa Clause 2'') plays Teresa Earnhardt, and J.K. Simmons ("The Ladykillers'') plays Ralph Earnhardt.

The father-son relationships portrayed in the movie push the film's appeal beyond just racing fans, Raynor said.

"I think the story touches everyone, because it's really about a father and son, Ralph and Dale, and a father and son, Dale and Dale Junior. It's a common denominator for everyone,'' Raynor said.
````````~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ESPN is midway through filming the movie, scheduled to air Dec. 11. Although they've taken some dramatic license, producers say they've paid special attention to staying true to the gist of Earnhardt's story