Years ago I had the chance to create a commercial for then NASCAR rookie of the year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale was the son of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. also known as “The Intimidator” for the frequency and readiness with which he would nudge his opponents’ cars into the wall or send them spinning into the infield. Dale Sr. was all about winning. He had won the NASCAR championship a record seven times over a 27 year career.
Basically, Dale Sr. was the Elvis of NASCAR. He’d helped make NASCAR amazingly popular and he was also its biggest star. The one big race that had eluded him, the DAYTONA 500, finally succumbed to him in 1998.
To say Dale Jr. was in his daddy’s shadow would be an understatement. He was just starting out. Budweiser had cannily secured his services and Dale Jr. raced the red number 8 Budweiser car.
I wrote the first Bud commercial for Dale Jr. Dale Jr was cool. He looked like a young Steve McQueen (and later appeared in Sheryl Crow’s video of the same name) and was into rock music. NASCAR’s roots lay squarely in hillbilly land. Moonshiners with lead feet driving cars with V8 engines trying to outrun the law. That’s where it got its start. Dale Jr. wanted nothing to do with this. He was a rocker. He hung out with Dave Grohl. He was cool.
As I delved into NASCAR culture and lore, I realized that this ad had to make Dale Jr. look cool. It would air during NASCAR races so it couldn’t be superficial. This was for the fans. And Dale Jr. had plenty. Not as many as his daddy but he was a bona fide star in his own right already.
Naturally Dale Jr. showed my commercial idea to his dad. And Dale Sr. took one look a it and suggested an ending that was in keeping with his legend. He suggested that Dale Jr. resolve the dilemma of his music CD skipping by slamming into the car in front of him at 150 mph.
And I thought that idea was just dandy. So that’s what we did. Most fun I’ve ever had on a shoot. Dale was “only” doing about 100 mph when he slammed into the car in the spot. Totally wrecked it.