MOORESVILLE – Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to be known as more than a successful NASCAR driver.
The 39-year-old Mooresville resident can boast of 19 career Sprint Cup wins, a Daytona 500 victory and 11 straight Most Popular Driver awards. It’s his passion for helping others, however, which sets the easygoing racer apart from many celebrities.
Earnhardt started the Dale Jr. Foundation, a Mooresville-based nonprofit organization, in 2007. It supports hundreds of local and national charities, including Make-A-Wish of Central and Western North Carolina, Speedway Children’s Charities, Mooresville Soup Kitchen and the Humane Society of Iredell County.
At a time when many drivers were just starting to reach out to fans via Facebook or MySpace, Earnhardt was a step ahead, looking to assist as many people as possible.
He hasn’t slowed up since then.
Earnhardt made an appearance at the Stocks-for-Tots charity event at NASCAR Technical Institute on Dec. 10, where, decked out in an orange hooded sweatshirt and jeans, he signed autographs for more than 300 race fans.
Some supporters tried to make quick conversation with Earnhardt about their experiences at Sprint Cup events, Earnhardt’s business interests or his JR Motorsports Nationwide Series race team.
Earnhardt says he enjoys interacting with the millions of fans who comprise “Junior Nation,” his ardent fan base, particularly when it’s for a worthy cause.
Stocks-for-Tots benefits Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), another area nonprofit.
“I hadn’t been to it in awhile, so I figured it was about time to come back here and see the fans,” he said.
Charity work, Earnhardt said in an exclusive interview, means a lot to him.
“We started the foundation just to let our fans know what mission was important to us, what our directive was and what areas we like to work in,” Earnhardt said. “It helps our fans be aware of what charities we like to work with, as well.
“When you don’t have a foundation, you sort of get spread really thin and the impact isn’t quite as significant. So, since we’ve had the foundation, we can sort of funnel (all our efforts) and make a larger impact and a difference in our community and nationally, as well.”
The foundation’s work in the Lake Norman area, Earnhardt added, is another point of pride.
“We’ve built playgrounds and computer labs for schools,” he said. “We do Blessings in a Backpack locally, where we shop for food and canned goods and things like that over the holidays.”
Earnhardt has even managed to use racing to help spread the word about the Dale Jr. Foundation. From 2009 to 2012, he drove a Dale Jr. Foundation-sponsored No. 88 Chevy in the Sprint All-Star Race every May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
His relationship with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which began when Earnhardt was a Nationwide Series driver in 1999, saw Earnhardt grant his 200th wish to a lucky race fan at the 2010 All-Star Race.
The versatile ways in which his nonprofit can offer assistance helps keep The Dale Jr. Foundation viable long-term, which Earnhardt believes is important.
“We do a little bit of everything,” he said.