“That was part of Dale’s charm, I think, that he was clearly humble enough to do that. I think he understood that some of the national media have little understanding of NASCAR, and we’re going to have to educate them — and be happy educating them and pulling them in and not be arrogant about it.
“I remember thinking I didn’t know how epic his father was at that time, so when I’m interviewing him in his trailer, I didn’t realize I was in the presence of greatness. I could tell he was a respected driver, but I didn’t realize how great he was. I remember he undressed in front of me. He was just doing his thing. He was doing his job. He probably realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but there’s so much to talk about in that world.”
Gurss: “I don’t know who suggested it, but we decided to walk around the track. The track lights were still on, and the three of us took a mile and a half slow walk around on the apron and banking of the Texas track. It feels like forever ago because Touré was recording on cassettes. He had all these cassettes he’d put in a box, and the very next day, he had it shipped out for someone to transcribe. Lord only knows how many cassettes he went through.”
Touré: “I remember real vividly his (qualifying) run for the trials, the time trials, and his dad was like, “How’d you do that?” “Go straight, turn left!” I thought that was pretty funny.
“There was something special about Dale as a young guy and the son of royalty. He was fun to hang out with. And then just driving around his town, it was just cool. We hung out in Mooresville a couple of times. After his dad passed, I went and spent the weekend with him. I consider that a huge compliment that in that moment when you really don’t want to talk to anybody, it was, ‘I’ve got to talk to somebody, I’ll talk to him.’ ”
Gurss: “It’s hard in context now to appreciate how impactful it was in that era. It was important to Junior as a media outlet because it was something that he and his buddies appreciated and enjoyed. It was the same thing that happened in the next couple of years with MTV Cribs. Junior wanted to do it because his buddies thought it would be cool. Some of the stuff he would do because Budweiser or I thought it would be good. He was great and went along with it. Rolling Stone and MTV meant more to him personally than other stuff we’d been doing. He felt very open about really wanting it to be a good piece.”
Touré: “It was foreign. I think something probably said, ‘Yeah, it probably would be better to be at Vegas than Daytona.’ The official NASCAR folks at the races were all very inviting and welcoming to me, they were super thrilled to have Rolling Stone there and couldn’t have been nicer. They didn’t let on to me they were nervous about how I was going to perceive them.”
Gurss: “Some at NASCAR got a little concerned because Touré shows up with short dreadlocks, and they still were under some heat about the diversity thing. Touré asked about interviewing Brian France. They got very nervous that somehow it was some sort of subterfuge that he was going to write this scathing story about the lack of diversity.”
Touré: “I don’t remember everyone saying or doing anything that made me comfortable. I remember driving around with Junior (in Mooresville), and we passed an intersection and then you don’t see another street for miles. He said someone at the other intersection had made like a face, which indicated to him, ‘What the (expletive) are you doing driving around with him?’ He pointed this out in a way that wasn’t like ‘I’m so woke!’ which wasn’t a thing at that time, but just like, ‘That guy had something to say about it. Whatever.’ He was cool to me from the first second.”
Schuler: “The Rolling Stone story was probably the biggest attention-grabber because what it meant for the brand itself. (Budweiser) was heavily trying to get in with music and trying to brand itself with various genres. It was a magazine we advertised in quite a bit. Always wanted to get different stories in there. Here’s a young kid from Mooresville, North Carolina, on the cover of Rolling Stone. That really jumped us. He also was on the cover of TV Guide. I’ve got a poster of all the different publications we did with him — Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated.
“Those were big because of the attention that we could get very quickly outside of the NASCAR world and fandom. That’s what we were truly going for. Go to a NASCAR race and ask anyone if they knew Dale Jr. drove the Bud car, and it was easy to get that done. It was, ‘How do we get him out of that?’ ”
Touré: “Rolling Stone definitely liked putting a fish out of water. It really worked putting me there because I had a discovery process. I was learning about NASCAR so I could teach the audience about NASCAR as well as tell you about this guy rather than the expert. That usually works quite well, but the expert knows so much, he may not remember what the audience does not know.”
‘I CAN’T GO THERE IN A MOORESVILLE SUIT’
The following season brought more opportunities, notably introducing Linkin Park at the 2001 Video Music Awards and a candid interview in Playboy.
Earnhardt: “I was super shy. I’m going to tell you that there is no bigger fear than going to the MTV Music Awards and introducing Linkin Park. I don’t think I have experienced fear like that ever since. If it was up to me, I would have never done those things. I would have said heck no, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to do that. That is scary.” Gurss: “He was always really nervous on Kimmel and Letterman stuff. Then he’d do it and knock it out of the park, and I’d say, ‘I told you you’d be great!’
Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrives at the MTV Video Music Awards Sept. 6, 2001 in New York. (Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)
“But I don’t want to overstate I was badgering him. Before presenting at the VMAs, he said, in one of my favorite lines, ‘I can’t just go there in a Mooresville suit.’ We’d met a stylist from New York while on a People magazine shoot in Dover. We went to her office the afternoon of the VMAs, picked out what to wear, and the town car picked us up and took us to the event. Sometimes, there was no grand plan, it was just saying, ‘Hey this will be cool. This will be fun.’ ”
Earnhardt: “(Gurss) has a knack for helping me try and understand why we should do it. What the response and the repercussions would be from that, and the positives and the opportunities that would follow that. He would say like if this happens, then this could happen and this can happen.”
Gurss: “I’ve never seen him so nervous, he was wound tight. We didn’t know what to expect or how it works. We just knew the car was there, and a volunteer would meet us to be our guide. They sent us the script that was just terrible. We’re in our high-fashion suits in the car, and he says, ‘I’m not saying this.’ I said, ‘We’ll figure something out. It’s a live telecast, they’re not going to stop the show if you don’t say exactly what’s on that.’ Our volunteer handler was a dentist, a really nice guy. We got to the red carpet fairly early, and we asked him if we could change the script. The guy disappears, comes back and says, ‘I found the person doing the teleprompter.’ He takes us back to a cubbyhole in the theater, and Dale makes up something like, ‘I like my music like I like my cars, fast as hell. Some cliché but something better than what they had, and the person just typed it in the teleprompter! We were thinking, ‘OK, don’t know if someone needed to approve that, but it’s in there.”
“I could talk for hours about that day. On the red carpet, a few people knew who he was, and the joke was, ‘Now I know how it feels to be the 43
rd qualifier. I’m in the show but not Beyonce or Jay-Z. I’m just a part of it!’ We’re surrounded by all these stars. But we went backstage where the union stagehands were, and the T-shirts and diecasts come out of the woodwork, and he started autographing. It really put him at ease backstage to have all these guys working back there who were thrilled he was there.
“He did all the media afterward. They were stunned he was willing to do this, and we said, ‘That’s what the sponsor pays him to do. We do this every weekend.’ ”
Earnhardt: “That was just kind of a perfect storm between being paired with (Gurss) and having the clout that Budweiser had that could get us into those conversations. Being in the right place at the right time because if it was up to me, I would have never done those things. I would have been like ‘Heck, no! I want to just drive.’ I’m still very scared of doing those big hits, like music awards and things in front of a lot of people is very challenging for me.”
A SUCCESSFUL LEGACY
Earnhardt’s impact on Budweiser’s business was almost immediate, leading to more freedom in the campaign.
Schuler: “It was pretty quick the transition from normal NASCAR driver to a superstar with Bud on his chest. The first year, we had to put Budweiser in there somewhere and a reference to NASCAR. The next year, it was him completely away from the car. It was a contemporary adult. Every NASCAR fan would know who he was. If someone wasn’t a NASCAR fan, it was just a 26-year-old kid or model in the store trying to get someone to choose Budweiser.
“We measured a lot of what we did with properties based on the wholesale system and how much they ordered point of sale items. Prior to Dale Jr., July 4, Memorial Day and the Olympics would garner the vast amount of excitement. The first year with Dale Jr., the NASCAR program went from No. 12 to No. 1 very quickly because he was what they wanted to use to sell Budweiser beer. That’s a metric that’s easy to see because wholesalers have to buy that stuff. They’re putting their money where their mouth is.”
Gurss: “All the cardboard standups, the neon signs, all the bar stuff — the local wholesalers and distributors have to buy that from Budweiser. In the Ricky Craven and Wally Dallenbach Jr. days, roughly 50% of the markets would buy that stuff. Within the first year or two of Dale Jr., it went to 90% plus. I always teased people I was judged by the number of cardboard standups at the 7-11. I knew my job was safe when I saw a neon sign at the bar. I was fascinated by that being a point of real numbers to help them judge the impact it was having.”
The wave of young drivers replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s generation is heavily reliant on social media, which ensures their backing sponsors and brands are built around their genuine personalities. It’s an area in which Earnhardt was ahead of the curve
Schuler: “The built-in fan base with the last name certainly helped, but it was who he was as a person. Most of those stories were prior to his dad’s passing. He already was on a trajectory that no one thought he could get to, and then the tragedy happened and elevated him to icon status.”
Earnhardt: “Those things happened because of our relationship with Budweiser, and then Jade Gurss’ work ethic and his ability to get us into those doors and into those conversations with those publications. That happened because of a really dedicated, professional person that sees opportunity and does it just as much for himself if not for the person they are working with. I have to give Jade just a lot of credit. He worked really hard to get those opportunities for us.”
Gurss: “It wasn’t something we’d sit around and theorize. It’s great to say in retrospect, ‘You know we had this bigger picture.’ It sounds pompous. So we didn’t sit around his bus and talk about that. It was just an awareness of trying to get him to get out of his comfort zone. He was very shy. If it were up to him, he’d stay inside and play video games and watch movies. Which is all great.”
Though Earnhardt’s father reportedly grumbled about some of his son’s interviews, he was fully supportive of his progeny taking the namesake to new audiences. Schuler: “When Senior was alive, he was the only person who snapped Junior into what we’re trying to do and where we’re going. That was a loss for Junior in terms of, ‘How do I do this and where do I go?’ I
Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with his father during the Southern 500 weekend at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend 2000. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
give him and his sister an immense amount of credit for the empire they’ve built. They’ve done it by not making a whole lot of mistakes. I’d almost call him the Derek Jeter of NASCAR. He was most eligible bachelor for how long but never a racy story. That’s a true compliment to the moral compass that Big E provided him prior to him leaving. I’m proud of the man he’s become.”
Gurss: “At that time, his dad was saying, ‘I’ve done my part. You’re up and coming. It’s time for you to do your part for NASCAR.’ His dad had instilled in him that view. When (Mike) Helton would approve, that meant a lot to him. Before his dad passed, his dad was like that. He had a bigger picture of more than himself and a sense of the sport as a whole.”
Earnhardt: “Even today, it is still something I don’t have a total grasp on. But I know now, realizing what it could do for the sport and trying to be a good representative of the sport. Having a great relationship with Helton. I love making him proud especially. He and Dad were really close. When Dad was killed, I looked at Helton a bit as a father figure at times and would go lean on him and he would tell me about how well I was doing and if I was representing the sport well. It would push me to want to do that more to make him proud of me. That had a lot to do with it, too.”
Source : https://sports.yahoo.com/beer-rolling-stone-rock-n-130121052.html