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Teresa Earnhardt drags family name through muddy waters

By George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

Earnhardt is more than a name. It is a brand.

Dale Earnhardt. NASCAR. Iconic fallen hero. Rising iconic star in Dale Earnhardt Jr.

And apparently, a bitter widow in Teresa Earnhardt.

In a family spat gone viral in NASCAR country, Teresa is suing Kerry Earnhardt, Dale’s oldest son and her step-son, for using the Earnhardt name in a business venture. Kerry, who once gave it a go at racing as well, wants to market and promote a line of homes and furniture called the “Earnhardt Collection.”

Teresa has filed an appeal in federal court after she was shot down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Bad idea.

Seems to me that anyone is entitled to use their own name. If Earnhardt was using “the Hutton collection,” there would be no spat. Teresa Houston was born in 1958 and went on to marry Dale Earnhardt in 1982.

Earnhardt died in 2001 after a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Long before then, Dale Earnhardt had help establish Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 1984, in large part to give Dale Jr. a platform to rise in the ranks of NASCAR. He took care of his own.

Teresa — step-mother to both Kerry and Dale Jr. — apparently just wants to make life difficult for them. Dale Jr. would eventually leave DEI after a power struggle with Teresa, who eventually also left DEI after a merger with Chip Ganassi Racing.

It’s nice to see she is so invested in the family brand, even as an outsider. (Hashtag)sarcasm.

“Rene (Kerry’s wife) and I have worked extremely hard to develop the Earnhardt Collection brand and make it uniquely ours,” Kerry Earnhardt said in a statement to ESPN.com. “I chose to leave a successful career in racing and could not be happier with what we’ve been able to achieve in the five years we’ve been building our home-lifestyle brand inspired by our love of the outdoors.”

Although it’s fair to call shenanigans on Kerry’s claim of a “successful racing career” — he only drove in seven Cup races — he most certainly has a right to chose any career path he wants under the family name.

Teresa, already labeled an outsider by having no relationship with her step-children, has now alienated a huge chunk — heck, maybe all — of the NASCAR fan base.

Well played!

“Hate that my brother & family have to deal w/ this nonsense for over 4 yrs. It’s our name too! We were born w/ it!” Kelley Earnhardt-Miller tweeted last week.

Kelley is Junior’s sister and the manager of JR Motorsports, the racing team Dale Jr. started in 2002, after it was used as a marketing arm for four years.

I’d suggest that Teresa let the Earnhardts do their thing, whether it’s furniture or racing.

The bitter widow power play isn’t going to get a lot of sympathy in NASCAR country.

Imagine if Teresa had tried this move on Dale Jr. She might have needed to fend off the burning pitchforks from irate NASCAR/Junior fans.

Even as it is, there’s still a five-alarm fire. Teresa has the power to put it out if she’d only give it a rest.

•••

Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing have been good for each other: a big-time driver with a small team that found a way to make it work seamlessly. Truex made the Final Four in the Chase last season, an unexpected rise competing against the super powers.

Truex remains a viable Chase participant this year despite not winning a race. But things get muddled after this season because of an expiring contract. What comes next?

Asked if he would like to renegotiate last week, Truex quickly shot back, “Right now.”

Obviously he wants to stay.

“The problem I’ve had with my career is it’s been up and down,” he said. “And that’s because of change. That’s because you get in situations where they don’t go the way you thought they were going to go.”

Truex Jr. has been a hard-luck kind of guy, competing for two races teams — Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing — that blew up.

“You look at Jimmie Johnson. You look at Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch,” Truex Jr. said. “They get with a team and they just keep building on that foundation. Year in, year out, they’re the guys to beat because they have that around them. They have that solid, just rock. … They don’t have to figure out everything else that goes along with it.”

•••

Formula 1 and NASCAR rarely intersect, but there’s potential brewing with Romain Grosjean, who could cross over this summer.

Stewart-Haas Racing has plans to get him a ride. He currently drives in F1 under the Haas banner.

“We may give it a go. I think it would be really cool,” Joe Custer, chief operating officer of Haas F1, told reporters last week. “It’s definitely on our wish list. We just have to make it work: whether it be this year, next year, whenever that is. We’re not sure.

“He’s made it clear that he wouldn’t want his debut to be on an oval, where he’s never done it before. There’s so much going on. We have to figure out the testing opportunities and all the things that would make it a success.”

That stipulation would lead Grosjean to a road course — Sonoma on June 26 or Watkins Glen on Aug. 7. It works perfectly with the F1 schedule because those are off weeks on that circuit.

“I don’t think there are any barriers to any of this,” Custer said. “We just have to figure it out and get it on the schedule.”

•••

Is Clint Bowyer feeling the championship squeeze?

Now in his 12th Cup season, Bowyer is struggling with an under-funded HScott Motorsports team. He finished 19th competing in his home state of Kansas last weekend and is now 26th in the points, one notch below Danica Patrick.

“No, we were with one of the best teams there was for seven years, was with a really good team for a few years and he decided to quit on me,” Bowyer said last week, alluding to Michael Waltrip Motorsports. “We are building back up. I know I’m going to a championship-caliber team for three years after this one. You will see me back.

“I feel like you get the race cars underneath you and you compete exactly where you have always competed. The history is there. Consistency has always been part of my racing and that lends itself to racing for championships and being competitive at the end of the year. We’ve got to get to where you can compete for those championships no matter what organization you are at.”

Bowyer’s odds should improve next year when he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing and replaces Tony Stewart, who is retiring.

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