Looking Heavenward...         

An Interview  With Dale Jarrett

By Nancy Zuckerman

 

It is easy to think that just because you are the son of a two-time NASCAR champion, you’ve got money to burn. Your future in racing is guaranteed.

But it’s not.

Dale Jarrett had to learn how to scrape for money to get into the sport, how to work hard, and how to have patience. That, said Jarrett, is the most important thing his father passed on to him.

"Anytime that I have ever tried to go out and make things happen, it may go OK for a little bit but in the long run that’s not the way to go," Dale said. "I think that’s something he taught me."

In racing, one must "wait and get yourself in that right position," and it’s not all about coming in first. Rather, NASCAR is based on a build-up of points.

A steady build-up of points put him in first place at the Winston Cup Championships in November of 1999. And Dale very recently won the Daytona 500.

Life wasn’t always rosy for Dale Jarrett.

One of the lowest points in his professional career came in 1995, when he switched race car companies.

He had joined the Robert Yates team and was driving a top-rated car. But the team’s performance was lackluster.

"Things just went terrible -- there were these high expectations...things were being said about me -- my inability to drive a race car, a competitive car, one that should be winning races...but I knew there were a lot more circumstances surrounding this matter than what most anyone else knew. I felt it suited me best not to bring those out. But there were things said around my children that brought them to tears. It was a very difficult time."

"I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be at the top."

What brought him through the turmoil?

Simple, he says. His faith. "All through it," he said, "I never lost sight of what really was important: God, and my family." Dale relies heavily on his Bible for guidance. "The things that are happening to us aren’t things that just came about. Whatever problem we’ve encountered...I’ve never yet encountered one that the answer wasn’t in the Bible somewhere."

This is something still relatively new to Dale Jarrett. He had been with the Joe Gibbs racing team, and credits Gibbs with being a powerful witness. While Dale was with his team, he and his wife re-dedicated their lives to Christ. "Even though I’d grown up in a Christian home, and Christ was still in my heart, I’d done my wandering away and thinking that Dale Jarrett could make everything happen. I didn’t look to Christ for the answers. The association with Joe Gibbs brought me back to reality."

Dale Jarrett grew up the son of another Winston Cup Champion, Ned Jarrett. He was born on November 26, 1956 in Conover, North Carolina. Daddy Ned was a race car legend back in the 60’s when Dale was growing up, but "he got out of it when I was at a young age." Still, the race-car bug had bit him. He entered his first race at age 20, at the Limited Sportsman Division at Hickory Motor Speedway. "The first time that I got that opportunity, it was just that...thrill that I had like nothing else," he recalled.

When Dale began racing, it was a struggle. "It’s an expensive business to get into," he claimed. Having his father’s name simply increased expectations, including his own. "Whether I’m playing cards, or home playing Monopoly with the kids, I want to win," he admitted.

"Nobody ever expects more out of me than what I do."

One would think that out on the race track, it’s all cut-throat competition -- but no. There is a community on the tracks -- a worshiping one.

"That’ll probably disappoint someone," Dale laughed. Motor Racing Outreach is a ministry begun in 1988 by a pastor from California that ministers to race car drivers and their families. "I think that what’s neat is we have the competitors there, and most of the time it’ll be from 20 to 25 of the competitors, so you have half the field that’s there with their families, and we’re worshiping together less than two hours before we’re gettin’ ready to go out and get into a competition with each other. It’s great family time, and it affords our children the opportunity to stay involved in a Christian atmosphere while we’re out on the road." to drivers’ motor homes when they want it, nursery and activities for the children and of course, "it’s there when times may be difficult on the track for a driver and their family." There is also a work-out facility that travels with them so they can stay in shape.

It is clear in talking to Jarrett that the ministry is a comfort to him. "I know my kids are growing up in a Christian atmosphere, and that’s real important to me," he affirms.

Priorities are important to Dale. His relationship with God and his relationships with his family are the most important things in Dale Jarrett’s life. "I want people to say that Dale Jarrett made a difference in other people’s lives...he was a Christian and helped people."