CONCORD, N.C. – In the midst of his recovery from a concussion in 2016, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was offered the opportunity to join the NBC broadcast booth during the NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega and Martinsville.
Little did he know at the time, it would shape his next career.
“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 afterward when I left the booth,” he recalled. “I had no idea how enjoyable that was until I did it. I couldn’t believe it. 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 (Letarte) and Jeff (Burton) that I definitely wanted to pursue this as an opportunity if there was interest.”
There certainly was interest, and Monday morning NBC announced that Earnhardt will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage beginning in 2018.
"This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career."Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While he knows he’ll miss the competition and camaraderie that comes with racing in the Cup Series, he has no doubt that he’ll be able to replace the adrenaline.
“The thrill of actually calling a race in the booth is something that’s hard to explain until you do it,” he said. “It was surprising me to me how much of an adrenaline rush it was to call the race. And when the race is exciting, you feed off of that just like the fans do.
“Those few moments that I was in the booth last year were very telling for me.”
Now, Earnhardt will step into a new role that will reunite him with former crew chief Letarte as well as a number of men he considers close friends, including Burton.
That comfort those relationships will provide Earnhardt during the transition, the driver said, helped him immensely as he made the decision.
“I’m very excited to step into that realm and learn what I can and try to continue to further the sport and showcase the sport to folks and try to explain to everyone what’s happening out on the racetrack," he said. "It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“We hired this person to be himself. We want Dale to be Dale and we don’t want him to change at all."Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ executive producer and president of production
And for anyone worried that Earnhardt might take on a different persona inside the broadcast booth, Sam Flood – NBC Sports’ executive producer and president of production – was there to alleviate those concerns.
“We hired this person to be himself. We want Dale to be Dale and we don’t want him to change at all,” Flood said. “We didn’t hire him to be an announcer. We hired him to be himself.”
While his focus will be on the NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt’s opportunities with NBCUniversal might even extend beyond NASCAR, including other sports, movies, television and podcasts.
“We’ve talked about football, we’ve talked about the Olympics,” Flood said. "If it’s the right fit for him and for us -- there’s nothing locked in stone. It’s all about opportunity.”
Earnhardt said he’s “up to any challenge” as he takes on a new role that he acknowledged is “a dream come true.”
“This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career,” he said. “I’ve always just drove race cars. This is probably the first real job I’ve had in 20 years.
“It’s going to be an exciting adventure.”