Dale Earnhardt Jr. does more than just NASCAR on NBC. That’s by design.
This season alone, Earnhardt has done the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Kentucky Derby. In years past, Earnhardt was a part of the Super Bowl pregame show and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production at NBC Sports, sat down with Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Mike Davis on the Dale Jr. Download. The episode is an excellent intro to sports media and, specifically, broadcasting NASCAR racing, but Flood went in depth about why Earnhardt tends to do other things for NBC.
“It’s a unique situation,” Flood said. “We’ve, a couple of times have done crossover, but this is really the big one that we’ve leaned into. And when we made the proposal to junior, we had a list of things that we wanted him to do. We wanted to be, go beyond motorsports, because we want him to take the fans that get to know him at the Kentucky Derby or at the Olympics and say, ‘Hey, that guy’s pretty cool. I wanna hang with him. Oh, he’s the NASCAR guy, I wanna watch a race and hang out with Junior for three hours during a race.’
“And that’s the strategy is to get him, and also Junior wants to be more than just a race guy and he wants to try some play-by-play. He wants to see what it’s like to be a broadcaster. He does [podcasting] right? And he has grown from a shy guy… to being the most popular guy in the sport. And to someone who communicates an incredibly welcoming level. He doesn’t put up barriers. He engages you in such a plain way, and it’s real. It’s authentic.
“And I remember we’re talking to him about, he said, ‘I want to learn how to be a broadcaster… I want to learn all the lessons that I need to be great.’ And I said, ‘The only lesson you need to learn is to be Dale Jr. The minute you’re not Dale Jr., you become a broadcaster. We’re wasting our money. We shouldn’t hire you. We want you to be Dale Jr. We need to bring your authentic self to the TV in whatever you do. Yeah, we’ll teach you how to when to talk to the camera, when to talk to your coworkers, and how to get to commercial, and do the little things. But most importantly is never lose you.’ Because that’s what the fans are in love with and you see things that are [in a] really unique way. And you describe things in a great way. So let’s let that happen.”
Dale Jr. is an “everyman,” so it makes sense to have him on different broadcasts to cross-promote their NASCAR broadcasts. And credit to Earnhardt for wanting to try new things. It would be very easy for the biggest stars in their respective sports to get by on the bare minimum, but Earnhardt is willing to be the best he can be at broadcasting. And that means getting out of his comfort zone.
This week in Chicago, NBC is doing a “Radio Style” broadcast where Earnhardt will do play-by-play from a section of the Chicago Street Course. It’s a departure from what Earnhardt typically does, but it’s something that’ll make him a better broadcaster.