The untold truth of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Once upon a time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was mostly known for sharing the same name as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. While his father was known as "The Intimidator" for his dark sunglasses and hard-driving style, the younger Dale Earnhardt earned an early nickname as "The Imitator" for walking in Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s footsteps. But after finding his own way on the track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a star in his own right, rising among the ranks of NASCAR drivers in wins, earnings, and overall popularity. Now that he's stepped away from racing, Dale Jr. had taken his success to areas beyond just racing. Anyone who thought that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s life was only about making left turns might be surprised by some of the right turns he's made in his life outside of the car. Here are things you might not have know about Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale is actually his middle name

We've all met at least one person who we've known by one particular name only to find out — sometimes after years of knowing them — that the moniker we've called that person isn't the handle they were given by their parents. How many movies have you enjoyed that starred William (Brad) Pitt? And who could forget the wealth of music written and performed by James (Paul) McCartney?

Likewise, one of the biggest names in racing isn't exactly as we know it. Thanks to a pair of superstar racecar drivers, the name "Dale Earnhardt" has become synonymous with motorsports. But it might not have ended up that way. Neither Dale Earnhardt — junior or senior — was actually Dale Earnhardt on their respective birth certificates. At least not as their first name. Both men are legally Ralph Dale Earnhardt, being given the name of family patriarch, the father of Dale Sr.

In 2018, Dale Jr. and his wife, Amy, had a daughter named Isla Rose Earnhardt. But it begs the question ... if the couple were to have a son, would the world be graced with yet another Ralph Dale Earnhardt? We'll all have to wait and see.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s grandfather was also a great racer

While current race fans might be more familiar with the Dale portion of the Earnhardt family tree, gearheads of a certain age might be able to tell you a thing or two about Ralph Earnhardt. The eldest Earnhardt spent the early part of his life working in a North Carolina cotton mill but spent his free time building race cars in the garage behind his home. He began his racing career by running on local dirt tracks and was known for his innovations. Maybe the most notable was the idea of tire stagger — the concept of having different circumferences for the tires on the right and left side of the car.

On the professional circuit, Ralph won the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman Championship while finishing second in his first Grand National race. Over the course of his 23-year racing career, Earnhardt amassed more than 350 NASCAR victories, earning the nickname "Mr. Consistency" in the process. In the late 1990s, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Of course, his legacy in racing extended beyond what he did behind the wheel. He also helped establish the Earnhardt name as one to be reckoned with on the track with his son Dale and grandsons Kerry and Dale Jr. all taking up the family business. Sadly, Ralph would never get to meet Dale Jr. The patriarch died of a heart attack at age 45 in 1973, more than a year before Junior was born.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole $80 in quarters from his dad for a Game Boy

Before he was one of the biggest names in motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was once a mischievous kid trying to figure out how to get his hands on a portable video game system. NASCAR racing stars — they're just like us! And just like a lot of us, it takes a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of chutzpah to make an end run around your parents to try and get the things you want.

Despite being the son of a major sports celebrity, Junior couldn't quite convince his dad to buy him a Game Boy. So he took matters into his own hands. In an interview, Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted that he once took an antenna off a car, attached duct tape to the end of it and used the makeshift device to lift about $80 worth of quarters from his father's jar of change. The entire plot was foiled when Junior was ratted out by his father's housekeeper. With no NASCAR-themed games available for the Game Boy back in the 1980s and '90s, it's fair to wonder which cartridges the younger Earnhardt might have coveted. Anyone up for a game of Motocross Maniacs?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has done some voice acting

It's not uncommon for athletes to lend their likenesses or voices to video games. The Madden franchise continues to be an extremely popular title year after year, thanks in part to the lifelike graphics and the ability for gamers to play as their favorite NFL players. Similarly, EA Sports developed a NASCAR game that was released beginning in 1997 (discontinued in 2009) and that featured Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the cover in 2003.

What's a little more outside the box is lending your voice to a video game that has nothing to do with your sport — or any sport at all. In 2006, Sierra Entertainment developed Scarface: The World Is Yours, based on the classic 1980s film by Brian De Palma and starring Al Pacino. The game let players explore the Miami underworld of the '80s and included some of Pacino's dialogue from the original film. To fill out the new characters, however, Sierra enlisted the talents of a number of actors, musicians and, yes, athletes. Or at least one, athlete. Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned a credit alongside a cast as diverse as Ricky Gervais, Ice Cube, and Cheech and Chong.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns a TV production company

One trait of successful people is wanting to take their wins in a particular arena and trying to extend them to another area. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no exception. Being one of NASCAR's most popular drivers and sitting among the circuit's top money winners wasn't enough. Dale Jr. also decided to try his hand at being a media mogul.

That effort began in 2004 when Earnhardt started Hammerhead Entertainment. The initial purpose of Hammerhead was for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take better control of his personal brand. To that end, the company — which began on his farm — started by producing Back in the Day for Speed Network, Unrestricted with Dale Jr. for XM Radio, and a number of commercials. Eventually, the operation grew and took on projects for a number of Fortune 500 companies plus some of Earnhardt Jr.'s NASCAR competitors.

At one point, Hammerhead produced videos for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, winning the job from NASCAR itself. That might not be as thrilling at taking the checkered flag at Daytona, but it's a pretty big win nonetheless.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a band named after him

It's no secret that plenty of athletes want to be musicians and lots of musicians want to be athletes. What's not quite as frequent is musicians naming their bands after athletes. But that road less traveled is how the world of rock-and-roll was introduced to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. A pair of musicians from Detroit — Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein — got together in 2009 and started an indie rock band. Being from the Motor City, the duo noticed that NASCAR didn't earn much time on sports talk radio stations despite being one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Thus, on the suggestion of a friend, they named their band after the popular driver.

Initially, the group was formed as an experimental project with little expectation that the music would be released to the public. But in 2011, they released their debut album It's a Corporate World. However, they wanted to make sure that Earnhardt Jr. would be okay with his name being used. Epstein says he sent Dale Jr. an email explaining what the band was about, assuring him that they weren't mocking him in any way and sending a few samples of their music. Not only did Earnhardt give the band his blessing, but it turns out that he was a fan of the music. It was truly a win-win!

Dale Jr. helped a band produce a music video

For audiophiles, there are few things as thrilling as finding a new band whose music speaks to you. If you're really a music fan, you try what you can to learn as much about the artist as possible and maybe even see them if they're doing live shows near where you live. But if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr., you go one step further — you help the band make a music video.

That's what happened when Earnhardt discovered a band called The Dangerous Summer. The music came to his attention thanks to an alternative music channel he curated through a streaming music service. After learning that the band had broken up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached out to one of the members. Eventually, the band reunited and turned to Dale Jr.'s production company — Hammerhead Entertainment — when it came time to shoot their second music video.

Being around music video shoots was nothing new for Junior, having appeared in videos for Jay-Z, Nickelback, and Sheryl Crow. But none of those other artists likely expected Earnhardt to help out with finding extras and handling the lighting rigs. It gives "I'm with the band" a whole new meaning.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns a restaurant

It can get pretty hot when you're behind the wheel of a stock car racing at high speeds with crowds cheering and a pack of competitors on your tail. After years of dealing with the heat of the fast track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to take a turn at turning up the heat in the kitchen, opening his first restaurant, Whisky River in Uptown Charlotte. In addition to a casual dining experience that features menu items like Whisky Wings and Beer Can Chicken, the eatery boasts a honky-tonk feel enhanced by live music.

Of course, why would you just stop at one restaurant when you can have more than one? After finding success with his first restaurant, Junior partnered with HMSHost to open a pair of locations in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham airports. While the locations seems to be doing brisk business, we can't help but wonder why a guy who made his living behind the wheel of a car wouldn't have created the kind of food joint that might have a drive-thru window?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. starred in a home reno show on DIY Network

Ask any retiree and they'll tell you that once you step away from work you find joy in all of the personal projects you didn't have time to get to when you were still in the midst of your workaday life. Apparently Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no different. As a professional driver and owner of a racing team (JR Motorsports) Dale Jr. is certainly no stranger to the contents of a toolbox and has likely spent plenty of time turning wrenches. He put some of that know-how to work as part of a four-episode series on DIY Network in 2018 titled Renovation Realities: Dale Jr. & Amy.

The show followed the couple as they restored a run-down home in the historic Old Town section of Key West, Florida. In addition to the general headaches that come with home restorations — structural, plumbing, and electrical issues — the pair also had to contend with Hurricane Irma blowing through Florida during their work.

While Dale Jr. was the more recognizable face and name in the limited series, Amy was a driving force behind the show thanks to her work as a skilled interior designer. It was also how the couple initially met, with Amy working on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s custom home. Sometimes business can blossom into pleasure.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a gas tank at his home

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. was still racing professionally, he could just roll into the pits, get some new tires and a full tank of gas in less than the time it takes the rest of us to put on a pair of socks. Nice work if you can get it. But now that he's no longer making the loop on the NASCAR circuit, you'd figure locals might run into Junior occasionally at their local filling station. You'd be wrong.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to fill up the car with gas, he just stays home. That's because he had his own gas tank installed at his house and buys gas in bulk. He says he did it on the advice of fellow racer Kenny Wallace who did the same thing in his own home. While the convenience of having a pump at home is evident, it apparently comes with one downside — Earnhardt now rarely carries his wallet with him. It's a quirk that has embarrassing consequences when he can't open the door to his own offices. It's also probably slightly annoying for anyone who has to pick up the check at lunch.

Dale Jr. has a racecar graveyard

Anyone who is a true fan of anything is likely a collector at heart — or at least they wish they could be. Of course, not everyone has the coin to drop on something like a mint Babe Ruth baseball card. Most of us just have to be content with digging through busted shoeboxes full of old cards sitting in our parents' garages. Most of us aren't Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It makes sense that a man whose family has a long track record (ha!) and who has the resources to truly be a collector would take an interest in the history of the sport that brought him his success. It might not come to mind for him to have a graveyard of wrecked racecars on his property. Alas, back in 2005, Dale Earnhardt Jr., along with truck driver Sunny Lunsford, started acquiring cars destroyed in races and having a flatbed truck deliver them to the woods behind his home, an area nicknamed Dirty Mo Acres.

As if that weren't entertaining enough for Earnhardt, the retired racer has turned each acquisition into a bit of a treasure hunt. Earnhardt admitted on Facebook that he doesn't always know where specific cars are located and that he might have to just wander around until he finds the one he's looking for.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will donate his brain to science after his death

Concern about concussions and brain safety has become a big point of concern in sports, particularly in the NFL. However, the topic has also crept into other sports with the NBA and Major League Baseball taking steps to protect their athletes.

In that case, it should be little surprise that NASCAR athletes, who can be subjected to violent crashes, would be concerned about brain injuries. It was a major factor behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ultimate retirement from professional racing. In 2018, Earnhardt admitted that he had at least 20 concussions during his career and that the fear of suffering any more head injuries motivated his desire to walk away from the sport.

But in addition to quitting over head injuries, Earnhardt has taken the further step of saying that he will donate his brain to science after his death in order for it to be studied for the effects of head trauma. It's a step that a number of current and former NFL players have taken, and it could go a long way toward helping future athletes better protect themselves from traumatic head injuries.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in a plane crash

According to CBS News, on August 15, 2019, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family got quite a scare. As their Cessna Citation airplane was attempting to land in Elizabethton, Tennessee, it ended up bouncing on the runway a couple of times before crashing and catching on fire. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. It may be a while before any of them get back on an airplane, but Dale, his wife, Amy, and their daughter, Isla, all came out alive, as did the two pilots of the aircraft. In a gesture of gratitude, NASCAR later gave the responding emergency personnel free tickets to an upcoming NASCAR event. Following the plane crash, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Facebook page and other social media outlets have been swamped with well-wishers and kind words. Everyone is quite relieved that Jr. and his loved ones were able to walk away from the plane crash.