Chasin’ Junior: The High School Days
CHARLOTTE, NC — It’s hard for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to go anywhere without being recognized, but once upon a time, that wasn’t the case. Before the fame and fortune that comes with being the face of NASCAR… Dale Earnhardt Junior was just your average high school student… with a big dream.
Kelli Bartik caught up with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s favorite teacher to find out what the soon-to- be retired NASCAR driver was like back in high school.
“What was he like?”
Lorraine Pope, Dale Jr.’s art teacher at Mooresville Senior High, replied, “He was like a normal kid. He was shy, not very outgoing.”
“He didn’t really like drawing the ‘still lifes’ I set up,” Pope said. “He would rather draw cars. He was drawing cars even back then.”
Back then however, he was playing a different sport.
Before winning back-to-back championships with his Busch series team, Dale Jr. was trying to help his high school team win a title… But instead of helmets and fire suits, it was cleats and shin guards for the NASCAR superstar.
“They were out there practicing and I said I want to play football,” but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. says his high school football career was over before it started.
“And the guy said I’ll take you down and introduce you to the soccer coach, you don’t need to be playing football. So I played soccer anyway. Got me a letter jacket, all that. We went to State and lost, but it was a lot of fun. I played one year, and I was the backup.”
From a backup fullback on the Blue Devils soccer team to NASCAR’s most popular driver… Mrs. Pope says Junior’s polite, down-to-earth demeanor hasn’t changed one bit.
“I think he has stayed loyal to his hometown roots, and as I said, he’s stayed genuine,” Pope explains. “He hasn’t put on airs, and I think that’s why everyone respects him and has liked him for so long.”
It’s easy to see that Mrs. Pope is proud of what her most-famous former student has accomplished, both on and off the racetrack.
“Now I’m told, he does a lot of design for his cars and chooses the colors,” says Pope. “I have to think that some of that comes from maybe mixing colors back in art class.”
Pope has retired from teaching art but still keeps in touch with Junior, who said he wants to have dinner with Lorraine and her husband, Ernie.
Pretty soon, the NASCAR superstar will have plenty of time for that stone oven pizza party out on the Pope’s farm.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will retire from full-time racing after this season.