Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s now 15-time most popular driver, is known for embracing fans with open arms and seemingly always having a smile on his face.
But he wasn’t always the cheerful person we see on TV today.
Earnhardt opened up about parts of his childhood Thursday on “The Dan Patrick Show,” revealing that he was a “troubled child.” As has been documented in the past, the 43-year-old talked about how he and his sister Kelley both were desperate to connect with their late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., when they lived in with him.
When Brenda Loraine Gee, Dale and Kelley’s mother, was forced to move to Virginia after her house burned down, she made the gut-wrenching decision to send them to live with their father. Dale Sr. was capable of providing for them due to his racing career, but the stress associated with his professional life reportedly caused him to be distant at home.
“He would work in his shop all day long, and then he would drive home and get to the house around 9 or 10 o’clock — it’s time for us to go to bed — and we’re dying for just five minutes of his time,” Earnhardt told Patrick. “He would come in and sit in his La-Z-Boy in the living room, and you would sit on the couch and ask him questions — and he would not even answer your questions. He was so tired and wore down, and (had) so much on his mind about his racing career.”
Although Earnhardt and his sister both craved attention from their dad, their desperation apparently manifested itself in very different ways. He acted out so frequently that he nearly got thrown out of his Christian school and finally was sent to military school.
“I was just wanting his attention,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t know it, because I didn’t really want his attention in a negative way. I didn’t want whoopings and all that stuff. My sister says that I was always kind of acting out and trying to get his attention.
“Kelley would do things like get good grades, which you’re supposed to do to get his attention, and I was doing whatever I could to — I mean, 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. … I don’t think I did those things on purpose, but my sister swears I did.”
Kelley reacted to her brother’s interview on Twitter, and while she denies saying Dale made a conscious effort to be rebellious, she still asserts that his acting out was his way of getting attention.
Although Dale Sr.’s death was the most public tragedy in Earnhardt’s life, he said he’s been in and out of therapy roughly since the time of the fire. He has credited his therapist for helping him not be a “jerk,” and reiterated to Patrick that “if you meet the right person you can trust, and you listen and will absorb what they’re telling you, (therapy) can be incredibly helpful.”
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