Dale Earnhardt Jr., like most of us (including myself), is his own worst critic. You could do 99 out of 100 things flawlessly, but you’re constantly thinking of that one thing you messed up on. Even if it’s something nobody else noticed.
This past weekend, Earnhardt was working the Kentucky Derby, his first broadcast since the end of the NASCAR Cup Series season last November. The thing with Earnhardt working for NBC is that he’s been able to get out of his comfort zone and do things apart from being a NASCAR race analyst. Whether that’s doing play-by-play in NASCAR or working the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Daytona, the Kentucky Derby, or the Winter Olympics, Earnhardt is seizing the opportunity to do other things even if that might be scary.
Earnhardt took the opportunity to critique his Kentucky Derby performance on his podcast, The Dale Jr. Download.
This was Earnhardt’s third Derby and the first without sidekick Rutledge Wood. This meant that Earnhardt would need to receive and give the toss from and to the other people on the broadcast while doing his segment. That added another layer of difficulty and nervousness for someone who, admittedly, knows “nothing” about horse racing.
This wasn’t to say Earnhardt was unprepared. He studied and “crammed” for weeks before the broadcast. It’s just that when working on a sport you don’t normally cover, you can do all the studying in the world, and you don’t feel like you’re ever going to know enough to not be nervous that you’re going to forget something on the broadcast.
Earnhardt broke down his various live segments throughout the day. His first was with official starter Scott Jordan. Earnhardt was critical of his performance because he only filled about 30 seconds of an interview that was supposed to go 1:15. It’s not like viewers have a rundown of the show format and can point out that Earnhardt went 45 seconds short, but Earnhardt kicked himself for not having follow-up questions to compensate if things ran short. In addition, Earnhardt said that he answered his own question in one of the two he asked Jordan.
Needless to say, Earnhardt felt like he didn’t have a great start.
The only real noticeable part of this was that both people were nervous. Sure, after Earnhardt explained what happened, we can all see he answered one of his own questions, but not many people were going to notice that at the time.
Throughout the day, things got better. Earnhardt went to various places around Churchill Downs and he felt that went well. Then he talked about his final live segment.
In this segment, Earnhardt explained the significance of barn 42, stall 21. That was the stall Secretariat was in when he won the Kentucky Derby 50 years ago and is the stall that housed the most Derby winners since Secretariat. The only Derby horse in that barn and stall in this year’s race was Mage, the eventual winner. While Earnhardt was talking, he was supposed to walk toward the stall and meet up with Mage’s assistant trainer, Gustavo Delgado Jr., and interview him.
Earnhardt revealed that he couldn’t see Delgado’s face because the sun was behind Delgado as Earnhardt walked toward him. If you look at the clip, you see Earnhardt look around while Delgado is standing right next to him, and then Earnhardt starts the interview.
I’m not going to lie, that was kind of hilarious, but the segment was still informative as Earnhardt pointed out how quiet everything was just before the race.
Things ended well for Earnhardt as the guy who knew nothing about horse racing was the only person on the broadcast to pick the winner. The reason he picked Mage wasn’t because of the #8. In fact, Earnhardt said on the broadcast he didn’t even know Mage had that number. Instead, it was because Mage was the only Kentucky Derby horse Earnhardt met, because of his interview with Delgado.
Earnhardt revealed that because he was so busy, he didn’t get to place a bet on Mage (15/1), but he still had the satisfaction of picking the winner and maybe making some of his fans some money.
While we can all have some fun at Earnhardt’s expense, it’s great for him to publicly break down these segments to not only help him become a better broadcaster but to also inform the public just what a broadcaster is thinking during these segments. The pros make it seem so effortless, and it’s anything but. Earnhardt is someone who is unafraid to point out his broadcasting flaws, even if some of them aren’t as big of a deal as he thinks they are.