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Dale Jarrett Booking Profile

About Dale Jarrett

Unlike other high-profile NASCAR couples, Dale and Kelley Jarrett haven't moved to exclusive lakefront communities near Charlotte. They've chosen to stay in Hickory, a town of 35,000, where they grew up and now are raising their three children. Sure, the Jarretts have a hulking house and a private plane, but the glitz of making it to the big time hasn't overwhelmed them. In fact, they say they're as grounded as ever -- even though Dale joined his father, Ned, as a Winston Cup champion, becoming just the second father-son duo to win a championship at stock-car racing's highest level. Even though Dale Jarrett's father won two championships and was very successful in the mid-'60s, not much of that rubbed off on Dale initially. He just thought it was fun to go to the racetrack and play with other drivers' children there, such as Kyle Petty, Richard Petty's son. He never dreamed it would become his vocation. In fact, Jarrett wasn't sure what the heck he wanted to be after graduating high school. All he was sure about was that he loved playing sports. He was the star quarterback at Newton-Conover High School. And star forward on the basketball team, star shortstop on the baseball team, and star golfer. I knew that he was going to be a professional athlete of some sort because he had so much God-given talent," Ned Jarrett said. "I really thought he was going to be a pro golfer more than anything else." Ned Jarrett had good reason to think that. His son was offered a golf scholarship to the University of South Carolina but turned it down because he "wasn't much interested in studying," as Ned put it. Instead, Dale got married and had his first son, Jason, when he was only 18, then got a job at Hickory Motor Speedway because his dad owned the track. He got divorced shortly thereafter. Dale did any odd-job at the track, including taking tickets, selling popcorn, driving the pace car and mowing the lawn -- which wasn't one of his fortes. He even convinced his father once to buy a few goats so they could eat the grass on the side of a hill. That way, Dale wouldn't have to mow it. The plan backfired, though, when the goats opted to eat the dashboards and seats of old demolition derby cars stored nearby. "You could say I lacked direction," Jarrett said. "But every day during lunch, I'd set up my little driving range behind the racetrack and hit balls into an empty parking lot. I was really into golf before racing came along." Racing didn't come along, surprisingly, until Jarrett was 20, and he started working on a race car with high school friends Andy Petree, who is now a Winston Cup car owner, and Jimmy Newsome. Jarrett ended up driving the car after he convinced his dad to loan him money to buy an engine. And the first time Jarrett got into that race car at the tiny, .363-mile track, he had a revelation. After starting 25th and finishing ninth, he knew he wanted to drive race cars for the rest of his life. He sprinted up to his parents in the press box to tell them the news -- but they already had a feeling it was coming. Ned Jarrett lights up when he tells the story of that night, smiling wide when he recounts how 1970 Winston Cup champion Bobby Isaac ran down pit road to talk to Ned after he raced in the event. "Bobby said, 'I thought you said Dale was going to be in that car tonight?' " Ned Jarrett said. "And I said, 'He was.' Then Bobby shook his head and said, "Can't be. Can't be. He was too smooth.' " Dale Jarrett loves telling that story, too. And he loves remembering the feeling he had that night, the night he figured out he wanted to focus his athletic abilities on becoming a race-car driver. Since then, he says, it hasn't been easy -- but it has been gratifying. At first, he was broke just trying to make a name for himself. Then he met Kelley, and the two started a life together. While they always expected to remain in Hickory near their families, they never thought life could be this good. They did, however, think racing would always be a part of it. "He would work on his race car at the shop until 9 or 10 at night, and I just couldn't understand why he wasn't coming home for these home-cooked meals," said Kelley, who was a fifth-grade teacher back then. "Well, I realized right then we weren't going to be June and Ward Cleaver." At that point, Dale was doing all he could to make a living as a driver, relying on Kelley's income to get them by. He drove in his first Winston Cup race in 1984, then went to the series full-time in 1987. While he won the Daytona 500 in 1993 and 1996, only the past four seasons have been blockbuster years. Driving for Robert Yates Racing, Jarrett has finished third in the championship twice and second once, in 1994 when he lost to Jeff Gordon by only 14 points. 1999, though, was no disappointment. And the small-town guy with the sweet Southern twang hardly believed all along that it was going to happen. "My racing career has been a struggle because I never had any money, so it has been one slow step at a time," Jarrett said. "But I'm a believer that things are brought to you when you're ready for them. It's just taken me a long time to be ready for this.""

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