By Mike Davis
Maybe you’ve noticed it during one of NBC Sports’ broadcasts of The Dale Jr Download. In the corner on the wall sits one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s all-time favorite possessions — a Jimmy Means racing helmet. It was a gift from Means himself on Dale’s 40th birthday.
The open-face shell is all sorts of perfect, not just in its magnetism but also its symbolism. For starters it's blue — a gott-dang working man’s helmet. It’s void of creativity, empty of frills and free of excuses. It screams scrappy, maybe even stubborn. It’s the helmet of a survivor.
Jimmy Means was [and still is] the quintessential underdog. That’s important to note because Dale has always had an affinity for the underdog. Maybe it’s because he was one himself. Growing up he was undersized. He attended more schools than a guppy. He won only four races in his entire late model career. For perspective his driver Josh Berry won four last weekend.
As you know, Dale Jr. eventually shed his underdog status, established a bit of fame and stumbled into some money. That didn't change his affinity for the underdog. In fact at age 29 he started his first Xfinity Series team and called it Chance 2 -- a name that originated off the late model team that provided Dale and his siblings their first opportunities at racing. The whole premise of Chance 2 was to put someone relatively obscure and unrefined in the car to give them, well, a chance. (Editor’s note: Martin Truex Jr. made the most of his.)
Even Dale Jr.’s current organization, JR Motorsports, was founded on the principles of giving talented people the chance to reach the NASCAR Cup Series when they might otherwise have none. And not just drivers, mind you. Dale Jr. has sent his crew chiefs, engineers, spotters, pit crew members, mechanics, PR practitioners, marketing professionals, graphic designers to the Cup Series.
And now his original content platform.
It was announced Tuesday on The Dale Jr. Download podcast and also via press release that Dirty Mo Media will be the primary sponsor on Ross Chastain’s No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Yep, that’s a Cup race at NASCAR’s oldest active track. The car will carry a special paint scheme once driven by Dale ***activate inner-grunt*** Earrrrrnhardt. Only it won't be the famed Goodwrench black-and-silver from the 90s or the iconic Wrangler blue-and-yellow from the 80s. It will be a livery from 1976 when Earnhardt drove a single race at Atlanta for Johnny Ray, an Alabama truck driver and independent team owner. It was Earnhardt's third career Cup race. He completed a little more than half of it before hitting an oil slick and crashing. Race over. Season over. Car destroyed.
The 2020 version of the No. 77 Chevy is gorgeous and the merchandise line is crisp. But the question begs to be asked, if Dirty Mo Media wanted to go Cup racing, why do it with Spire? Why a team that, in spite of its upset victory last year at Daytona, still ultimately defines a win by leaving the track with its car in tact? Well, here’s a stab:
I'm convinced there's not a better fit for Dirty Mo Media and its loyal followers. Dirty Mo Media, at its core, is a company of story tellers, and Spire Motorsports' story is being written and told in real time. Spire’s owners – Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr – don’t have a chain of thriving car dealerships. Their names aren’t splashed across moving trucks. Their crown achievement thus far is cultivating relationships within the motorsports industry to start and grow a successful sports management agency. You would think the safe play, obviously, would be for Jeff and T.J. to stay in their lane and grow their agency through the very methods that got them this far.
But that's not what they're doing. They are expanding through race team ownership and all that comes with it, which is a gamble. They bought their first charter in 2018. Even bolder, they did it again in 2020.
That’s not staying in your lane. That’s driving against the wall with the ass-end yawed out.
There is something to be said about risking it all and going for it, even if it's not obvious on television or in the grandstands. And there is something to admire when the driver's seat is filled by a watermelon farmer. And there is an element of cool when that farmer has a chance to do something with this unique livery that a young and wild Dale Earnhardt couldn't in 1976 -- complete the race with it.
Yes, just like that old blue open-faced helmet in the corner of the studio, sometimes rolling with the underdog just means more.
-- Dirty Mo --