These days, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a lot to be proud of. Not only is he preparing to welcome his first child with wife Amy, but he’s also one of the most respected drivers in NASCAR. But despite all of his success, things weren’t always easy for the athlete, who is also son to the late Dale Earnhardt — a seven — time NASCAR Winston Cup champion.
In a new interview with broadcaster Dan Patrick, the newly retired driver, who isn’t afraid to get personal, opened up about some troubling parts of his childhood. He also described how he felt like a disappointment until he found his place on the track.
“Man, I was a troubled kid,” he said on Nov. 30, during a 21-minute conversation on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “I was going to get kicked out of a Christian school. I got sent to military school for a year and a half and I didn’t really have much direction, you know, until I got an opportunity to drive race cars.”
He went on to say that his upbringing was also partly to blame for his negative behavior. His parents were divorced, and while he was in the care of his mother, their home caught fire.
“I’m standing outside in the yard in the morning watching our house burn down,” Dale Jr. recalled of the blaze. “My mom is broke and doesn’t have anywhere to turn, so she had to move back to Norfolk, Virginia, to live with her mother, because that’s the only place she could go. She made the very difficult choice to give up custody of me and my sister at that moment to my dad because she knew that he could provide for us and give us a better life.”
Even though Dale Jr. got to move in with “The Intimidator,” he still struggled. In fact, it took a while for the two to establish a relationship, because his dad was always gone.
“He wasn’t around; it wasn’t like we were interacting all the time,” Dale Jr. explained. “He would come home from working in his shop all day long. He’d get home around nine, 10 o’clock and it’s time for us to go to bed … I felt like the only way I could get him to talk to me or notice me was if I did something wrong or rebelled, or [fell] back or whatever or made things difficult. I don’t think I did those things on purpose, but my sister swears I did.”
While trying to form a bond with his dad, and struggling to find himself, Dale Jr. found a way to cope.
“I’ve been in therapy, in and out of it my whole life,” he said. “I was in therapy as a child, and definitely think that therapy is a very useful tool — if you meet the right therapist.
“I met a lady named Jane that I worked on and off with the last several years, and she has changed my life,” he continued. “To meet the right person that you can trust and listen to and sort of absorb what they’re telling you, it can be incredibly helpful.”
Dale Jr. is now nominated for Story of the Year in the Rare Country Awards, and it’s up to you to decide the winner. Vote now through Dec. 13 at RareCountryAwards.com. Winners will be revealed during a livestreamed concert event on Dec. 14 in Nashville.