FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 24th, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT JR. JOINS NBC SPORTS GROUP’S NASCAR TEAM – MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
July 24, 2017
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. We’re very pleased to be welcoming Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the NBC Sports Group family. On the call with us today, other than Mr. Earnhardt, are Mark Lazarus, the Chairman of broadcasting and sports for NBC, and Sam Flood, NBC Sports Executive Producer and President of Production.
Mr. Lazarus will be on just for a brief time, as he has another commitment. If you have an early question for him, you need to get it in within the first 10 minutes or so of this call. We’ll go ahead and open things up with some opening remarks from Mark Lazarus, followed by Sam Flood and Dale. Mark, go ahead.
MARK LAZARUS: Well, it’s official. We’re thrilled to welcome Dale to NBC Universal and NBC Sports. Dale of course is a race car driver, team owner, and iconic racing figure, but is also as popular off the track and has tremendous crossover appeal across all forms of media.
NBC Universal believes in great assets. That includes sports, film, and television. All of which are part of our ability to attract someone of Dale’s expertise to join our team.
Of course his core role will be in our sports group, and joining what is already a fantastic, and we are admittedly biased, the best broadcast team that covers NASCAR. That group is led by Sam Flood, so Sam, take it away.
SAM FLOOD: Well, we’re thrilled to have Junior join the team. He’s clearly the star of his generation and the most popular driver vote has been his. They might as well retire the award when he retires after the season. But his love of the sport, and his passion for the history of the sport, makes him such a unique talent that he looks at it in a different way. The conversations we’ve had are about how to grow NASCAR, how to expose new fans, and how to make it — make his passion for the sport come through to the fans. I spent some time with him last weekend at Loudon, and it’s fun to hear how curious he is about TV, about the job, and about how he can step in and do a great job from day one.
We’ve talked about taking him out to one of the Sunday Night games and following Cris Collinsworth and seeing how the No. 1 show in television gets made. Talked about going into the truck for a NASCAR XFINITY race and seeing the craziness that goes on in TV trucks, so he understands how it works. And obviously we’ll work through how to make sure, when that first show hits, he is ready to roll and ready to have a lot of fun with a team that he already knows. He already knows his teammates very well, in some cases rejoining a teammate, and in other cases joining people that he used to race on the track. So it’s a lot of fun and most importantly, we are thrilled to officially welcome you to the family Dale, so take it away.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I’m really excited to finally be able to announce this news. A lot of folks have been asking me what the next step was for me. It’s a thrill for me to be able to partner with NBC, and obviously I have a lot of respect for Sam and his team, and what they accomplish every weekend, and the product that they deliver to the fans.
Growing up around the sport, and having admiration for a lot of the folks that are in the media today, I’m very excited to step into that realm and learn what I can to continue to further the sport. I want to showcase the sport to folks and try to explain to everyone what’s happening out on the racetrack. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me. I’m thrilled to be with NBC and be with this team. I’ve had the opportunity to work with these guys being in the booth the last year a little bit.
So I’m definitely looking forward to next season, and just finally glad to be able to have this decision made and be able to talk about it, and be able to share it with everyone.
Q. Is Dale Jr an NBC guy now, or does that contract start next year?
MARK LAZARUS: The contract starts next year, although I’m sure Dale will spend a little time with us talking about how to do the job. And he will spend some time figuring out planning for the coming season. But he officially starts on January 1. His focus — not to speak for him, is the race team this year.
Q. Was there any kind of bidding war for Dale, or was he leaning towards you guys the whole way?
MARK LAZARUS: We just worried about our side of it. I’m not sure — I know others were interested because he’s obviously a unique talent, so we’re fortunate that he decided to join NBC.
Q. You said that finally being able to announce it, so it seems to me, and it’s been speculated that this has been percolating for a while. Can you talk a little bit now about the genesis of how this all came about?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I obviously have put a lot of thought into my future personally, but we really didn’t sit down and start to consider exactly what that might look like until I made the decision and announced the decision to retire at the end of the season from driving. Once I was able to do that, and share that with everyone, then we started to put together communications with Sam and his team… and started to talk about what opportunity there might be… if they had interest in working together.
The deal just got done over the last few days. It’s been a lot of communication back and forth over the last several weeks, and finally got it wrapped up here just recently.
Q. Sam, I was reading that there’s potential as Dale heads forward at NBC Sports to branch beyond NASCAR, to head to maybe up a role, even if it’s a one-off in football or some other places. I wonder if you can give me a sense of your philosophy as to where that might go, and then Dale, I just would be interested in your own interests beyond NASCAR.
SAM FLOOD: Yeah, we’ve had conversations, and this is a deal with all of NBC Universal, so it’s not just NASCAR. So we’ve talked about football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company. But I could see him being involved, if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say you’re going to go off and do a feature on football, we’re going to say, hey, does this make sense for both sides to get you involved in something here, be it the Super Bowl, be it the Olympics. There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. Could be an interesting match for Dale.
But there’s nothing locked in stone. It’s all about opportunity and the breadth of what we can do as a company, and I think that’s the most important part of what we’ve established here in this partnership.
Q. Dale, is there anything specific outside of NASCAR which obviously will be your strength, that you’ve always wanted to do, either be it an Olympics or Super Bowl or something like that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I’ve been a huge racing fan, so that would be something specific. You know, this is the very beginning of this partnership. I’m going to follow Sam’s lead on what I need to do to become as prepared as I can to do the job that he wants me to do. I’m going to make myself available as much as possible to allow him to give me the tools that I need to learn quickly in this process. I think as I gain confidence in myself, and continue to improve, and grow, and learn, and understand how this business works… as much as I’ve been around the sport, a lot of this is entirely foreign. I’ve always just drove race cars. This is probably the first real job I’ve had in 20 years.
This is going to be an exciting adventure. As I start to gain the confidence, and continue to lean on Sam, and listen to his guidance, I’m just going to depend on him to kind of point me in the right direction and help lead me. Any experience outside of NASCAR will only allow me to learn and continue to build my resume. I’m up to any challenge, and I’m with some great folks that are going to give me the tools to do the job right.
SAM FLOOD: With Dale riding his bikes all the time, he might want to jump on the Tour de France one year and get involved in that one. He’s out there in his Spandex riding around all these racetracks, so maybe cycling is in his future, too. Who knows?
Q. I wonder what your dreams and visions are in relation to this announcement and how a shy young man who turned into a great race car driver found his voice, and what a dream come true it is for you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, you’re right, it is a dream come true. This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career. That was one of the exciting things about the conversations that I had with NBC, is they do have interest in incorporating our Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead production company into a lot of things that we’ll do together, so that gives those two businesses opportunities to not only survive but grow.
That was obviously an exciting part of the puzzle to this whole thing.
Yeah, you know, I talked early about how much admiration I’ve had for a lot of the folks that have called races, whether it’s been on the radio or TV over the years, Barney Hall and Ken Squier and guys like that, and Benny Parsons. I’ve always been drawn to their jobs, and how they’ve carried themselves, and the amazing jobs that several of those guys have done, and several of the guys continue to do today. It’s really interesting to me.
I think the comfort that I’ll feel around the team… knowing obviously that Steve is there, Burton and Dale Jarrett, who’s been an incredibly supportive figure in my life, being around people like that is going to allow me to be a lot more comfortable and a lot less shy than I typically have been in my past. That was a key element that also made me excited about this partnership.
Q. It doesn’t say specifically what role Dale is going to have on the broadcast. Is there a direction you’re leaning, and how are you going to go about finding that right fit?
SAM FLOOD: We’re going to take the 11 months we have to look at things, play around with things, and make sure we put the show in the best position to be even better than it is right now. We’re going to take our time. No need to get ahead of ourselves, and that’s one of the things we’ve talked about, let’s make sure we do it right and put Dale in the best position to be successful, and in so doing make our show successful.
Q. Is it a thing where you could see maybe doing some XFINITY races this year to kind of do a test run?
SAM FLOOD: Honestly, we’re not big fans of having him do XFINITY races, given he’s an owner in the series. We’d prefer to keep him mainly focused on Cup racing. We’ve talked about during the XFINITY races, perhaps talking to the owner of one team a little bit during the race, but not being in the booth for those. The rest of the plan is still being worked through.
Q. What was the bigger factor for you, was it the cross-promotional opportunities as well as enjoying NBC’s coverage in general, or was it the comfort with Steve Letarte and what he’ll bring and how important he’s been in your life?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: For me, the comfort was a big factor, feeling like everywhere that I’ve had success before. I’ve always had that great friendship with the people I’ve worked with, very comfortable environment for me personally with the people I was around. So that was — that influenced me quite a bit, and that I would have the opportunity to work with some people that I know very well.
Sam was incredibly honest. I liked what I’ve learned about Sam over the last several months, and how candid, and honest, and up front he is. I like that directness, so you know where you stand all the time with Sam. He’s going to be a great person for me to be led by and to lean on.
Those personal connections were important for me, and you know, NBC certainly laid a lot of opportunity on the table, and they just showed a lot of encouragement and excitement about that opportunity to work together. Yeah, I mean, it seemed like a very, very good fit for me and something that I would be very comfortable with.
Q. Dale, how do you think your relationship might change with the drivers, your current competitors, when you become a full-time broadcaster? Do you ever that maybe they’re not going to be so into sharing the inside secrets? And for Sam, how do you take a guy like Dale Jr., who has shown such a natural ability for this, make him a professional broadcaster without sort of squashing out that natural ability that he’s brought and made himself a valuable commodity?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, to talk about the drivers, I don’t know that they’re sharing too much information as is with our current relationship. I think, you know, I’m interested, actually, to see how those relationships change as I move into a different position in the sport. But talking to Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and those guys and trying to learn how they continue to communicate, it sounds like it’s going to be pretty seamless. And to be on top of the sport, as a driver, I know that it means a lot to us when the broadcast team comes down into the garage, communicates with us one-on-one, talks to us during the week, asks questions. That means a lot. That relationship does mean a lot to the drivers.
Having been on both sides of that, or seeming to be on both sides of that, I think I’ll have a natural way of handling it.
SAM FLOOD: And I’d say in terms of — we hired this person to be himself. We want Dale to be Dale, and we don’t want him to change at all. We just want to give him some tricks to make it comfortable on television. So when a specific replay is coming up or he wants a specific replay, he can communicate properly to make sure what he’s looking at is what the truck is looking at. I think that’s the part of the business that it’s important for Dale to learn and how that communication goes back and forth. But the most important thing is his voice. We didn’t hire him to turn him into an announcer. We hired him to be himself, and we’ve talked about that, because that’s the most valuable thing he has.
And I think with all the talent at NBC, you find Cris Collinsworth is Cris Collinsworth. He’s not an announcer, he is a football-passionate guy who tells the stories the way he wants to. You look at Tony Dungy, who came in as a coach and we didn’t ask Tony to be loud and bombastic and do things that aren’t in character with him coach. We told him to be the coach that he is and he’s turned into the guy you listen to for strategy and insights on football.
We expect the same kind of opportunity here for Dale Jr., to be himself, and that’s going to attract people, and most importantly get people more engaged in the sport and realize how special it is to be a NASCAR fan.
Q. I wanted to ask you, how much did you think about maybe taking a break for a year, or was it just something that you really had always wanted to do in terms of working on television, or did you think much about saying, oh, I’m going to take a year and just do a bunch of these things and then get back into it?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think anybody would love to take a year of vacation. But personally, I think that my feelings about the sport and how much I love being part of the industry pushed me to make this transition and make it quickly. You know, as these races start to click off, knowing that I’m coming to the end of my driving career, you start to try to squeeze a little bit more out of each day, and I know as soon as that comes to a close, you know, there will be a void to fill. I think to do this well, it needs to happen now. I think taking a year off just really never — I don’t think that really ever entered my mind. We have a lot of growing businesses. We talked about the Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead production. We had a lot of other things that we’re involved in that can’t take a year off or don’t need to take a year off, so this all — I still want to work. I’m only 43 years old in October, so I still have a lot of things that I want to accomplish and do. I’m certainly excited to get going, get started now.
Q. Will Dale Jr., be on all of the Cup broadcasts next year, and what would his role be — would he have a role with NASCAR America?
SAM FLOOD: He will do all the Cup races. That’s the plan. And there will be definitely some content with Dale Jr on NASCAR America through Hammerhead and podcasts and some other things. We’ve got a lot of different plans we’re playing with that will be fun that will cross over to a lot of different platforms.
Q. And Dale Jr., was there anything that kept you from — that gave you second thoughts about doing this, or was there anything that you saw about this job that made you think twice or made you think, do I really want to do this?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Other than just pure nerves, stage fright, nothing. I enjoy — I remember when I went into the booth last year, and the feeling that I got being in there and the feeling that I had afterwards when I left the booth, I could not — I had never — you’d think you’d have an idea of what that’s like having watched so many races growing up and being around the sport for so long, but I had no idea how enjoyable that was until I did it. I couldn’t believe it. And I knew immediately then in those moments when I was going through my injury last year and got the opportunity to go into the booth with Steve and Jeff that I definitely wanted to pursue this as an opportunity if there was interest. I had no idea how people felt about whether I had what it took, but once we started having conversations and understanding there was interest, it was very exciting.
Yeah, I’ve not had any — I know we talked about Dale Jarrett being an incredible supporter of mine, and me and him have had a lot of communication, and he’s reiterated several times that it is a lot of work and that I’d better be ready to be prepared and to work — to do the job well. And I kind of can relate to that with racing. I mean, you get out what you put in in effort, and so it’s going to be a little bit different of a job, but still, talking about things I know about. I’ll be comfortable in that environment, and like I said, I mean, the thrill of actually calling the race in the booth is something that’s hard to explain until you do it.
Q. Can you still tweet that you dislike 3:00 starts?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll talk to Sam about that one.
Q. I’m curious how tough this is going to be for you. Yeah, you’re going to be going to the racetracks like you have since you were a kid. You’re going to be going to the same places and I would imagine keeping a somewhat similar schedule, but you’re not going to be getting that adrenaline rush anymore. You’re not going to get that feeling that you got behind the wheel of a car. How tough is that going to be, and is there something else you can replace that with?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, it was surprising to me how much of an adrenaline rush it was to call the race, and when the race is exciting, you know, you feed off of that just like the fans do. It was exciting. You know, those few moments that I was in the booth last year were very telling for me and incredibly helpful in being able to make this decision confidently. I don’t feel like that I’m going to miss the adrenaline rush. I will miss the competition. I’ll miss the people. But this opportunity will certainly give me the opportunity to spend time around those folks. It just won’t be in competition. You know, when you’re working with the race team, that close bond develops in competition and going through the trials and tribulations and ups and downs together. I hope to be able to have those experiences with the guys at NBC, with our team there, and build that fellowship and create those relationships that I’ve always created with the teams that I’ve worked with in the past, no different whether it’s race team or the broadcast team.