KANSAS CITY, KAN. There's no telling how many twentysomethings Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his rock-'n'-roll-racer reputation have drawn to NASCAR's already-huge fan base.
Junior, as he's called, doesn't much concern himself with such matters.
"I'm sure, maybe, I have," Earnhardt said during a break from testing Monday at Kansas Speedway. "But I don't want to take credit for that. But maybe I've turned some people my age who thought this sport was ridiculously boring."
Earnhardt is anything but.
Son and namesake of the racing legend who was killed in February in a race-day crash, Junior has been awfully busy outside his race car.
He was featured twice in Rolling Stone magazine and was one of People magazine's "sexiest men."
He has been on MTV and was a presenter at the MTV Music Awards and has turned down appearance invitations from "Hollywood Squares" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."
He hobnobs with musicians and entertainers and, coming soon to a television not especially near you, will star in a music video.
"It's been," Earnhardt said, "a lot of fun."
After putting Kansas Speedway through its paces in anticipation of the upcoming Protection One 400 on Sept. 30, Earnhardt was to board a plane today bound for Vancouver, Canada, where he will make his music video debut for the Matthew Good Band.
A friend gave Earnhardt one of the band's CD's a few years ago, and Earnhardt immediately took a liking to the Canadian rockers, eventually developing a friendship with the band's namesake.
In fact, when Earnhardt lent his name and signature and logo from sponsor Budweiser to a limited-edition Les Paul guitar, he sent one to the Foo Fighters and another to Good.
Good was so thrilled, he volunteered to fly Earnhardt to Vancouver to be in a video.
"I'm just going to play a part," Earnhardt said. "It's just a role doing something."
It might be a bigger part than he anticipates. Jade Gurss, Earnhardt's Budweiser-sponsored public relations manager, says the driver is featured prominently in the video that might never air on Junior's beloved MTV.
"Junior thought it would be a little cameo," said Gurss, a Topeka native. "But, actually, he's in quite a lot of it. Matthew said it was hard to describe, but a tip of the hat to the movie, 'Brazil.' They're in an office building opening doors to different worlds, and Junior's his sidekick. He helps Matthew go through all these worlds."
A smash in the Great White North, the Matthew Good Band has made just one U.S. release, but Gurss said another could be forthcoming, creating the possibility Earnhardt's debut could make it to America.
"It should get us some good exposure in Canada," Earnhardt said.
No doubt he's had plenty of exposure a bit farther south.
Though Earnhardt is something of a musician himself Gurss describes Junior as a "closet drummer," talented and self-taught but wary of public performances because of the expectations that surely would arise his life is racing.
And as his tumultuous 2001 Winston Cup season that began, basically, with his father's death hits the final stretch, Earnhardt finds himself in seventh place in the Cup series standings.
"We keep improving as a team," he said. "We keep bringing a better race car to the race track. I see improvement each week. You don't really change anything. You don't drive any differently. You just keep working and keep working and it starts happening for you."
Jeff Gordon leads the Cup series standings with 3,768 points through 26 of 36 races this season, while Ricky Rudd is runner-up with 3,546. Earnhardt has 3,244 points and one Cup victory and, mathematically, at least, could finish as high as third place.
"That's our highest goal," Earnhardt said. "We can still finish third."
Earnhardt was joined by Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Brett Bodine and Dave Blaney on Monday for testing at the track.
Labonte, the 2000 Cup series champion who's in sixth place in this year's standings, had the quote of the day when asked about rough racing that appears to have become more intense of late.
"That might be good for ratings and TV and all that," Labonte said, "but we're still racing out there. We don't belong to the Screen Actors Guild. We're not acting out there. We're racing."
Tickets for the Sept. 30 Protection One 400 and the Sept. 29 Mr. Goodcents 300 Busch Series race are sold out.