In The Red: The 2001 Season with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No one is more qualified to write the story of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2001 season than former publicist Jade Gurss. Employed by Anheuser-Busch in 1999 to manage the newest driver to wear Budweiser red on the NASCAR circuit, Gurss spent 1999-2007 by the side of one of the sport's most visible figures. Not only did he observe, but he took notes. Lots of notes. Some of those notes became Driver #8, the tale of Earnhardt Jr.'s first season in Winston Cup. In The Red chronicles the second.

Gurss coordinated Earnhardt Jr.’s public life and in the process he observed the day-to-day operations of a team that would have naturally been in the spotlight simply because Earnhardt was the heir apparent to the Intimidator, the NASCAR driver who had—and still has—perhaps the most vocal and loyal contingent of fans in all of motorsports.

When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died in 2001, those fans’ eyes and the eyes of the world turned to his son. Gurss documented the events of that year and In The Red presents them with poignant clarity.

Beginning with Speedweeks in Daytona, ending with the Awards Banquet in New York City, In The Red takes the reader through Junior's sophomore season week-by-week. If you watched that season, it will refresh your memory in detail, sometimes excruciating and painful detail, but always vivid. If you hadn't made it to NASCAR yet, the book gives you a glimpse into a year that shaped the sport in ways sometimes taken for granted today. From the sudden, wrenching death of Earnhardt Sr. through the days, weeks, months afterward when Earnhardt Jr struggled with his on-track performance and off-track obligations, Gurss tells the story in an unbiased yet compassionate manner.

In the preface Gurss says, “If you’re hoping this tome will expose deep family secrets or dish dirt on conflicts within the Earnhardt family, you will be disappointed. Rather, it is about the struggle of a young man to find his place in the world after the loss of the man that meant the most to him.”

In The Red doesn’t dish, it doesn’t gush, but it also doesn’t censor. Gurss captures the rhythm and tone of people's speech, so if you’re offended by occasional profanity, you probably shouldn’t read the book. (You shouldn’t listen to Jr.’s scanner, either, but that’s another story.) Whether it’s Big E, Little E, or anyone else in the NASCAR universe, when they speak in the book, you can hear  their voices. You feel their pain and share their celebration.

One example that touched me more deeply than anything else in the book. Darrell Waltrip interviewed Junior before the 2001 Texas race. "DW" asked Jr., "Do you believe your dad is in heaven?" Junior answered first that he believed so, then said, "I'm sure of it, actually." He explained that his father was "pretty adamant about living right and being right..." He went on to describe how special his father was, and how much common sense he had. "I just believe he was so, so way above average in a lot of areas and that's why I feel pretty positive that he's in heaven. Because I don't think God would pass something like that up, you know?"

I cried. I laughed. I laughed while I cried. And I came away with a new level of respect for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his family, and his No. 8 Budweiser team.
In The Red: The 2001 Season with Dale Earnhardt Jr. In The Red: The 2001 Season with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, March 18, 2012 Rating: 5