Bobby Dale Earnhardt has a name that could be an anchor around the neck of a race-car driver, expectations hanging like a career-crushing weight.
That part of being an Earnhardt doesn't bother him, though. Bobby Dale is proud of his famous name, wants to be the next to carry on the legacy his grandfather Dale started.
What he doesn't like is the preferential treatment that comes with being an Earnhardt, the doors it opens, the opportunities other drivers miss out on because they don't have a name like his. If Bobby Dale is going to make it as a driver, he wants it to be because of his ability behind the wheel, not his lineage.
So instead of getting help from his father, Kerry, uncle Dale Jr., or even his grandmother, Teresa, he's going the do-it-yourself route, working as a cook at a fast-food restaurant while trying to work his way up to a NASCAR ride.
If it was good enough for his grandfather, Bobby Dale figures it's not a bad path to take.
``I've heard stories of how he worked his way up,'' Earnhardt said from his home in Rockingham, N.C. ``He didn't have stuff handed to him. He had to work for everything he had and made a name for himself. That's what I want to do. I want to earn what I get because if I earn it, I'll appreciate it a lot more than people who get stuff handed to them.''
The first grandson of NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Dale did race when he was younger. He is an Earnhardt, after all. He just didn't keep after it, drifting away from the sport after those early years sharing a go-cart with his younger brother, Jeffrey.
Bobby Dale was a decent but not great driver when he was younger, having more of an interest in electronics, particularly computers. Someone in the family or neighborhood had a problem with the computer, he was there to fix it.
``He didn't care all that much about racing when he was a kid,'' said his step-grandfather, Jay Hudson. ``He raced go-carts and all that, but he was more interested in electronics. He loved tinkering with computers, which he seemed to be leaning toward as a career. He still loves 'em.''
It's just now he loves racing at least as much, if not more.
Bobby Dale stayed connected to racing, going to his father's Nationwide (formerly Busch) races and working for his uncle. He started on Dale Jr.'s farm, then moved into the shop, where was a tire specialist, mechanic and went over the wall as the catch can guy for his uncle's Hooters Pro Cup team.
Bobby Dale also spent time helping Jeffrey, working on his cars at dirt tracks in Virginia. He was fine with working behind the scenes and under the hood for his brother, but started getting the itch to have a racing career of his own.
It's been a divergent path for the brothers since.
Jeffrey's career has progressed with help from the family. He's worked his way up the ladder, driving a few races in the Nationwide and trucks series, and will run at the 24 Hours at Daytona in January.
Bobby Dale's start came in, of all things, lawnmowers. Not the Forrest Gump, tool-around-the-yard kind. Lowered mowers with the decks and governor removed, noncutting machines that hit up to 80 mph.
He started off on his own in a bring-what-you-got class and drove well enough to earn a spot driving for Forever 3 Racing at Ellerbe Lions Club, a track in North Carolina nicknamed the ``Lions Cage.''
Racing with an all-or-nothing style reminiscent of his famous grandfather, he was third in the standings this year before a late-season wreck left him with a mild head injury and numerous abrasions.
``He's got the instincts Dale Sr. had. I've watched him and the boy's got that fire in his stomach,'' Hudson said. ``He lets it all hang out, boy, and it's a whole lot of fun to watch, but he's still got a little learning curve to go.''
Bobby Dale is hoping to hone his skills in full-sized cars next. He enjoyed racing lawnmowers, but found it dangerous, with little protection or room for error.
Bobby Dale is working on a potential deal to drive next season and may head to Daytona to get his racing license, but nothing has been finalized yet. Whatever happens, he isn't about to cash in on his name or legacy, willing to bide his time cooking at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken while working toward his chance.
The Earnhardt family, out of respect for what Bobby Dale is trying to do, refused to comment.
``I'm just another person just like everybody else; I ain't got nothing special,'' he said. ``I may have that last name, but that don't make me different than anybody else. I don't like people to look at me that way.''
Bobby Dale is just 23, but is up against the clock, so to speak, to get his racing career going.
Hudson, whom he's close to, needs a heart transplant. He had a heart attack and quadruple-bypass surgery last year, and the resulting damage left him susceptible to flash pulmonary edema, a sudden heart failure that can hit without warning.
Hudson can now usually tell when these ``spells'' are going to hit him and can get EMS out to the house before he's unconscious, including one instance a couple of weeks ago that put him in the hospital for a few days. Still, there's always the fear that the next episode will be the one where doctors can't get his heart going again.
Hudson is currently a Status 2 patient, meaning he can only get a transplant if no suitable Status 1 patients are available. He's also concerned his insurance won't cover the transplant because his numbers (measurements) aren't low enough.
The ordeal has been tough on Bobby Dale, though he has taken solace in the fight his grandfather is putting up.
``He promised me he wouldn't go nowhere until he saw me racing in NASCAR,'' Bobby Dale said. ``Hearing him say that means a whole lot, especially whenever he has one of those spells. I know he's not going anywhere if he made one of those promises. Not yet.''
Bobby Dale is racing to get his driving career going for one grandfather. He's doing it on his own to live up to the legacy of another.
Dale Sr. was the son of a NASCAR driver, but had to work his way to the top of his sport. Bobby Dale wants to do the same, not just to emulate his late grandfather, but to gain his approval, too.
At a race earlier this season, the fourth-generation Earnhardt started 12th and picked his way through the field, working his way to the podium. When it was over, he asked Hudson if he thought his other grandfather would be proud.
He told him they both were.
``I admire him for it, I really do,'' Hudson said of Bobby Dale's self-reliance. ``He hasn't asked for anything, so I don't think they appreciate what they've got. If he makes it, he's got the right to do it on his own.''
He'll add to the legacy of his famous name if he does.

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