"Junior is Junior. What you see is what you get. He's gotten more laid back the older he's gotten. He used to throw a lot of parties. He's calmed down a lot.
"We used to go to my grandfather's gearhead shop so my dad could work on his late models. My grandfather would come in there and give us a hard time. He was just Paw-paw Dale. Off the track, he was a great person. He tried to be serious with us and tell us to call him Mr. Earnhardt instead of Paw-paw Dale. He said he wasn't old enough to be a Paw-paw.
"We lived in a house right behind the property on 30 acres. It would be nothing to look out and see him on a tractor mowing the fields. One time, he stopped when we were riding our bikes. He got on a bike and rode it backwards around the house wearing cowboy boots and sitting on the handlebars. He came back around and said, 'If you can do this next time I come around, I will give you $10.'
"I worked hard, and learned to ride it backwards for him by the time he came back. He couldn't believe it.
"If he had those glasses on, you didn't know what his eyes were doing. He would pick on you all the time. That's what people loved about him.
"My dad ran Michigan with him one year, and we all went to that race. Junior started up front, my dad started mid-pack. When my dad qualified, he pushed my granddad into a provisional spot. So they had an Earnhardt in front, mid-pack and the rear.
"My last name wasn't Earnhardt growing up. When my grandma and Paw-paw Dale split, she married Jack Key and he adopted my dad, so they changed my dad's last name to Key. He didn't change it back to Earnhardt until later. When my brother turned 18, we changed our names back to Earnhardt.
"The Earnhardt name opens doors, but it's a hindrance, because everybody expects you to be the best of the best. I'm just me. I'm my own person, but I think I have my grandfather's determination and drive to make it.
"I'm an Earnhardt through and through. Racing runs in my blood, the adrenaline. I used to watch my grandfather race all the time on TV. He is my idol. He's the person I've molded my progression after. He wasn't given anything. He worked hard for what he earned. That's why I'm doing it the way I am. I don't want it handed to me. I want to earn it like my granddaddy did.
"So, I was working for Junior and got into U car racing. I did that for a year. Then I got into the party stage of my life and got fired. I hadn't gone to work for a week and a half. I partied. That was one time in my life that I regret. But things happen for a reason. Junior and Aunt Kelly weren't mad, just more disappointed than anything. They gave me one shot and I screwed it up. So I moved on.
"I started working for Starbucks and going to ECPI, a technical college. I went for a semester and a half. Growing up, I didn't see much of my mom. Then she came back into the picture. My dad and I had some conflicts, so I moved in with my mom and started working for KFC. That's when I started working on my racing career.
"Before I moved down there, I'd started racing lawnmowers. When I moved to my mom's, I started running really fast ones. They were four inches off the ground and would run 80 to 100 miles an hour. It was awesome. See, I never lost the racing bug. I just got sidetracked for a little bit.
"I got my head on straight and got out of the party stage and focused on my future. I didn't want to work at KFC all my life. I ran a late model car in Dillon and a U car there for somebody else.
"I went out to California to do a KFC commercial. I knew some people there in the racing industry. They helped me get some sponsors and flew me back out there to do some testing with a late model.
"They knew somebody here who knew Chavela Simmons. They brought me here last February to do some autographing for her across the state.
"We hooked up and came up with a three-year plan, three complete seasons. Dirt, ARCA trucks and ARCA cars. And then, Nationwide, NASCAR. By 2015, the goal is to be in Nationwide.
"This year, we moved to ARCA trucks. We've gotten three top 10s, a top five and 11th. I've had one DNF. I overdrove it. I was catching the leaders and got too anxious and ended up in the wall. But so far, we have done everything we said we were going to do.
"My sponsors are Chavela's All in One Pawn and Drive-in Barber Shop and Wilson Motorsports in Tyler County. We need more sponsors. This year, we've raced in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and here at Ona. I'm racing in Kentucky on my birthday Sept. 1. This is just a year to get experience, get in the car, run laps and stay out of trouble.
"In January 2001, Paw-paw Dale, my dad and I went out on my granddaddy's land, and I shot my first deer out of his favorite tree stand. That's one of the reasons I took his passing so hard, because it wasn't a month before that we had been out hunting. It's amazing how one day you can have somebody, and the next day they are gone.
"I watched the start of that race, then went outside to play with my cousins. I told my dad to holler at me when the race was getting close to the end. He finally hollered at me and Jeffrey, and I could tell something was wrong. He brought us in and told us what had happened. We knew before anybody else did. Somebody called my dad. They didn't officially announce it until later that evening.
"Multiple people have told me I drive just like him. Aggressive. I'm not afraid to use the bumper. In a car, I am fearless. Nothing scares me. I get in that car, and everything around me disappears."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.