A few years ago, this veteran broadcaster would have been skeptical. Dale Earnhardt Jr. a broadcaster? Some of his post-race and post-wreck interviews would have been cause for skepticism. He talked 100 miles an hour, his eye contact was poor, and his vocabulary lacking.
Frankly, this observer figured NASCAR’s favorite son would go the way of Tony Stewart. At one point, being more of a motorsports businessman- with a big assist from his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller- seemed more logical. He’d be more free to move about and check in with the media as it suited him.
A lot has changed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the last two years. He got married, he retired from driving, and he became a dad. This one time racing rock star has changed. There’s a maturity that seemed to be missing, and now we’re seeing a more polished, cleaned up Junior.
One result of this is a clean transition from the cockpit to the broadcast booth. Remember his guest appearance in the NBC booth last season? Speaking for myself, as someone who’s been practicing the craft for nearly 30 years, I thought “You know, this guy might actually be announcing material.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought energy, and was clear and cogent with his contributions. The network obviously saw something and gave him the opportunity. Excellent move.
There once was a time when Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed like a big kid. What’s impressive is the work he has put in to his new gig. This article from the Charlotte Observer goes deeper into ramping up for the big debut. A lot of work went into gearing up for his first broadcast. He took it seriously, and it showed.
It’s not easy as easy as it sounds to polish yourself for a broadcast, and still maintain your sense of identity. A huge part of the popularity of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is that boyish enthusiasm, that unvarnished outlook on NASCAR and good ol’ boy persona. It’s a balancing act. It won’t always be smooth, and yet because who he is, it’s safe to say the racing public will cut him some slack.
From here, the energy and recent experience of competing in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series that “Lil E” possesses is just what the sport needs. Of course, it didn’t hurt that his first race had a signature finish to give him something to work with.
Nobody gets there alone, so kudos must be given to Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte for making it work. I think NBC is on to something good.