The latest came out during Earnhardt’s conversation with his former team owner, Rick Hendrick, on the Dale Jr. Download podcast this week. Earnhardt drove for Hendrick Motorsports in the second half of his NASCAR Cup Series career from 2008 until he retired from full-time racing in 2017.
Around 2009 — although Earnhardt acknowledged he isn’t sure about the exact date — people in NASCAR were concerned about the tanking economy’s impact on the sport, including Dale Jr. As the driver-turned-broadcaster explained, along with Hendrick, he was worried about team employees getting paid or losing their jobs.
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In a conversation that started with Hendrick explaining he still works in NASCAR because of the people and getting to see them develop into successful professionals, it took a turn when they started joking about how many people Hendrick Motorsports was able to hire once Dale Jr. retired.
Then Earnhardt said, via the Dale Jr. Download:
“I called [Mr. Hendrick] one time — I don’t remember what was going on in the sport, but something was happening in the sport where everybody was a little nervous. And I called him one time and told him to take a million dollars off my salary if he needed to.”
When podcast co-host Mike Davis asked Junior to clarify, both he and Hendrick said it was the state of the economy.
Hendrick — who co-owns Earnhardt’s second-tier XFINITY Series team, JR Motorsports — continued and explained his reaction to Dale Jr.’s pay cut offer:
“The only driver that ever I’ve been associated with in all my years that said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a million off my salary and give it to the guys in the shop. Don’t have to cut anybody’s pay. I’ll give up a million dollars.’ Nobody else, ever. Pretty amazing. …
“I was shocked. That just shows you the character that he has and his relationship with people.”
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Earnhardt joked that Hendrick’s initial reaction was to ask him if he was feeling all right.
But, as Junior said on this podcast episode and plenty of times in the past, his salary didn’t matter much to him because he “already had more money than [he] knew what to do with.”
He’s also previously explained on the podcast why he didn’t want to look at the base salary of his first contract with Hendrick: “I’ve had a hard time in my life sort of feeling worthy of things and worthy of moments and accomplishments and appreciation.”
Now, Earnhardt never said whether Hendrick needed that $1 million or took him up on the offer, but clearly, Hendrick was blown away by the gesture. It’s surprising but also kind of not that Earnhardt was willing to take a pay cut for the sake of others in the shop.