On today’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes his grandmother – or as he calls her, “my Mammaw” – Martha Earnhardt.
Martha was married to Ralph Earnhardt from 1947 until his passing in 1973. Sadly, Dale Jr. never knew his grandfather, as the former was born more than a year later in 1974.
But Junior’s father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, told his son a number of tales about Ralph as a driver, a father and more.
Ralph and Martha had five children, two girls and three boys. Dale Sr. was the first-born son (1949).
Martha, who just turned 89 on July 15, told some great stories on the Dale Jr. Download, including:
* Dale Sr. was more interested in becoming a race car driver than being a school student. He failed two elementary school grades and was a 16-year-old eighth-grader. Shortly after entering high school, Dale Sr. went to Ralph and told him he wanted to quit school. “Dale really got behind in school and he was older than everyone,” Martha Earnhardt recalled. “He would do everything to keep from going to school. We just finally gave up and let him go do whatever.” But there was a caveat that, in a way, made a significant impact on Dale Sr.’s future: if Dale Sr. wasn’t going to go to school anymore, he had to work in Ralph’s garage. That proved to be keen, as not only did Dale Sr. learn about how to build a race car, he also learned how to be a better racer from his father, as well. Dale Sr. would attempt to run Ralph’s garage after his passing, but that was short-lived as Dale Sr. began his own racing career in 1974, the same year Dale Jr. was born.
* In addition to fixing regular cars, Ralph also fixed bootleggers cars in his garage. That helped fund his own racing exploits.
* Martha had her own racing career that lasted … well, we’ll let her tell the story: “Ralph and Bud Allman owned two cars together. They decided to let me and his wife drive at Hickory Speedway one night and we were in the ladies race. Me and her both wrecked and tore the cars up. They had our race before Ralph’s race, so they had to take both cars and fix one for Ralph to race. That was my one and only (race).” But even to this day, Martha remains miffed somewhat at her late husband because he wouldn’t let her practice for the race. “We just got up and started and tried to run and it just didn’t work. I just wasn’t meant to be a race car driver,” she said. But, Martha took her brief racing career with a grain of salt: “I didn’t really wreck that bad. I just ran into the wall in the right-front of the grandstand where everybody could see me.”
* Ralph Earnhardt had some unusual superstitions, Martha recalled. Ralph wouldn’t allow anything green in color in the car and he hated peanuts around the car – so much so that one time, Martha said, Ralph pulled a gun on someone who had a bag of peanuts and was uncomfortably too close to the race car for Ralph. “Things used to be different back then,” Martha Earnhardt quipped.
* The man who would go on to be famously nicknamed “The Intimidator” didn’t intimidate his mother. When asked if he did anything that got her mad, Martha replied, “Oh yes. He was always up to something. I threatened to whip him, but nine times out of ten I didn’t. He wasn’t a bad kid.”
* Martha still lives in the same house in Kannapolis, North Carolina, that she shared with Ralph. She’s been there for 63 years, when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Danny.
* Martha admits she worried about Dale Sr.’s racing exploits. “That’s part of me out there racing,” she said when she’d watch her oldest son behind the wheel. “It was hard to watch the kids. Like with (daughter) Kathy, she worried me to death racing, but she won all of her races.”
* Martha still watches or listens to race broadcasts, “but it ain’t as exciting because there ain’t no Earnhardt out there.” She says her favorite drivers today are Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. As for Dale Jr. having moved from a race car and into the broadcast booth for NBC Sports, Martha said, “He does a good job.”
Hear even more stories from Martha Earnhardt on today’s edition of NASCAR America/Dale Jr. Download at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN (you can also hear the full podcast at http://www.dalejr.com/radio/tdjd/).
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