Ernhardt son waits his turn

Posted: Friday, June 16, 2000

There were no autograph hounds camped out in the ARCA Series garage two hours before the Flagstar 200 on Saturday at the Michigan Speedway.

The posh transporters and equally impressive race cars were 100 yards away in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series garage.

Stock car's economy class was void of matching uniforms, public relations specialists and permanent restrooms.

For Kerry Earnhardt, life never will be easier. Or more difficult.

By design, the ARCA Series is more about hard work and humility than garage tours and hospitality appear ances. It's where Earnhardt can learn the basics of the family business. It's where he can turn wrenches, pay his dues and drive a race car.

The tougher lesson how to be an Earnhardt comes later.

As the older of two sons of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, Kerry Earnhardt didn't expect so much sacrifice just to make ends meet. His younger brother not only got his father's name, but he also got a ride in the family's well-funded race team. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a pair of NASCAR Busch Series championships and has two victories so far during his rookie season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

''Having the Earnhardt name helped, I guess,'' Kerry Earnhardt said. ''You still have to prove yourself. You have to be able to prove you can run up front and win races.''

His father, at long last, is giving him that chance, although it's still light years from the main event.

Kerry Earnhardt finished second in the ARCA race at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., last month, and he followed that up with a third-place finish Saturday at Michigan. He will try to earn his first ARCA victory this week in the ARCA Pocono 500 at the Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

At 30, Kerry wants to win the confidence of his racing family and earn the same kind of promotions that propelled Earnhardt Jr. into stardom.

''I want to race in Winston Cup someday against my brother and my father,'' Kerry said. ''I want to make it before daddy stops driving. I think it would be nice to have a father race against his two sons.''

''I never thought up until (the races at Concord and Michigan) that I'd be able to race my brother in the Winston Cup Series like the Burtons do,'' Dale Jr. said. ''I think it's a great possibility that we'll see Kerry in a Winston Cup car in two or three years.''

Kerry and Dale Jr. actually are half-brothers. Earnhardt and Kerry's mo ther are divorced. In fact, Kerry used his mother's maiden name when he was younger, and he didn't meet his brother until he was 16 years old.

''My mom and dad started out young and foolish,'' Kerry said. ''It was a pretty messed up deal.''

''I didn't ever meet the guy until I was 13 years old,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. '' He hasn't grown up around racing. He didn't know anything about racing until he was about 17 or 18 years old. Everything he's learned, he had to learn the hard way.''

As a teen, Kerry was sent away to military school. He married at 18 and worked two jobs to pay the bills. All along, he wanted to become more familiar with his father and the business of racing.

''There was some hostility for a while,'' Kerry said. ''I got pretty angry at times. My daddy was never there because he was always off racing. He always made it tough on us. I look back on how tough daddy was on us and I see he was trying to teach us some thing. I think I'm fine with it now.''

Kerry Earnhardt dabbled in a couple of NASCAR Busch Series rides in the past, but they were doomed from the start. He was so eager for the opportunity, he failed to realize that sub-standard cars bring sub-standard results. And sub-standard results don't spawn confidence among car owners, even when they're named Earnhardt.

''I did what I could do,'' he said. ''It was a bad situation.

''Now I'm doing it the hard way. I work 10, sometimes 12, hours a day on the car. I have to because we only have two other guys on the crew. I'm learning everything about the car. I have a better understanding of what makes it work.

''I can't just show up and drive like a lot of other guys.''

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