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Earnhardt Says Jimmy Means Meant a Lot To Him

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 12 2009

Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmy Means for much of his development as a human being. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmy Means for much of his development as a human being. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Gladeville, Tn. – NASCAR’s biggest star and the people of Huntsville, Ala., have something in common these days. They both recognize Huntsville resident Jimmy Means as a true American hero.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. for years has been vocal and enthusiastic in his support of Means, a journeyman driver in the series now known as Sprint Cup but who now fields under-funded cars in the Nationwide Series.

The Huntsville folks are making their affection official Monday, inducting Means into the Huntsville/Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.

Veteran Huntsville Times reporter Mark McCarter says Means is the first race driver inducted into the Hall.

On Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway, where his car failed to qualify for the 300-miler, Means seemed proud to be honored by the folks in his hometown. He seemed to be especially happy that he wouldn’t have to speak at the ceremony.

But he wasn’t reluctant to talk about his relationship with Earnhardt, who often roamed the pit area with Mean’s son, Brad.

  “I was always his hero when he was a little boy,” Means said of Earnhardt. “He used to pick up old spark plugs and lug nuts and bring them to me. I didn’t use the plugs, but I did use the lug nuts.

“And there are some Victory Lane photos where Dale Jr. is wearing an Alka-Seltzer hat.”

 Alka-Seltzer was the long-time sponsor of Means’ No. 52 car.

 Earnhardt still stays as close as possible with his old hero.

“To this day, if he sees me in the garage, he never walks by without speaking.” Means said.

In a 2006 interview at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. posed for photos with Means and talked about his childhood days when he rooted for Means, who ran 455 Cup races without a victory, while his own father was winning multiple races every year.  

“He was my favorite driver besides my father,” Earnhardt said. “It was amazing to me how he did everything with nothing.”

Like others in the sport, Earnhardt was heartened in October of 1987, when Earnhardt’s current car owner, Rick Hendrick, offered Means one of his best cars for the 500 miler at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Means had caught Hendrick’s eye at Richmond the month before, when he drove his underfunded Pontiac into the lead on three occasions before running out of new tires and finishing eighth.

Means didn’t disappoint in qualifying. He was fifth fastest in the Chevy that had been driven earlier that season by Tim Richmond.

Earnhardt, 13 at the time, watched the race from his family’s condo overlooking the track.

“They started the race and Jimmy was driving like he was in his own equipment,” he said. “He was taking it easy, fell back a couple of spots, just riding there.”

Then came the wreck that ended any hope Means had of parlaying the one-shot deal into a career break.

“There were probably 15 cars in the wreck,” Earnhardt said. “Daddy was in it. A bunch of cars wadded up.”

Earnhardt didn’t mind seeing his dad’s car knocked out. Seeing Means wreck was altogether different.

 “I cried and cried and cried,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it. A man dug so hard for so long to have a chance like that. How could this world be like that? It hurt me for a long time.”

Means said it hurt him too.

“It’s a shame something else didn’t come out of it,” he said. “But that’s life.”

Earnhardt said watching Means’ race on a shoe-string budget had a lasting effect on him. Maybe Means is the reason Earnhardt, despite his popularity in the sport, remains relatively grounded in many ways.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and maybe some way, somehow, just by knowing Jimmy and having spent some time close to him has helped me appreci ate things a little more,” he said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have turned out on the good side that I did.”

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 12 2009
9 Comments

9 Comments »

  • Timothy W Hunter says:

    Congrats to Jimmy on a well deserved and earned honor.

  • Tom Asher says:

    I always wore number 52 on my sports teams as a tribute to men like Jimmy Means: doing what he loves, week in and week out.

  • Ralph K. Dailey says:

    I like Dale Jr remembered and pulled for Jimmy Means. Like so many I wanted to see Jimmy who did much with little win and no one deserved it more than Jimmy. He was the guy we all could identify with. All Jimmy wanted was one more opportunity in a quality ride. I guess that opportunity never came. This is a well deserved honor for Jimmy Means. A true American hero to the little guy.

  • Chuck Ostermeyer says:

    Congratulations to Jimmy on this honor.

    In the mid-1980s, I had some discretionary income and attempted to get sponsorship for Jimmy. Unfortunately I wasn’t a good enough salesman and wasn’t able to get him any support. However, gentleman that he is, he thought he owed me something so I ended up attending races at Daytona, Talladega, Atlanta, Darlington and the now defunct Riverside Raceway as a part of his crew. I went from staying out of the way at Daytona to sweeping the pits at Atlanta, to borrowing tires from other teams as they retired (we had something like 12 different colored sets of wheels in Jimmy’s pits at the end of the race, to keeping fuel mileage and time charts at the rest of the tracks. It was always interesting in that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would without exception stop by Jimmy’s garage area on race mornings to talk. Of course while they were talking Jimmy was adjusting valves, under the car making adjustments, or doing something else. I can remember Jimmy once saying that he wished the drivers wrecking on Sunday had to fix their own cars on Monday like he did.

    Jimmy could definitely stretch a buck. I can remember that his crew always ensured that leftover gas was put into a drum in his hauler for use with his dyno back at the shop. Also while other teams were spending $100,000 plus for transport trailers, Jimmy and his crew converted a used moving van trailer to a car transporter over one winter. It wasn’t state of the art; however, it worked just fine to get his car to and from the tracks.

  • JPE says:

    Huntsville has been pretty much taken over by yankees. I doubt that many in Madison County know who Jimmy Means is…

    • Dave says:

      Hi,

      Just wanted to let you know. I’ve lived in Ohio all of my nearly 60 years, was always a fan of Jimmy and still get excited just seeing his car in a race. I have been a fan of Nascar since the early days when you were just lucky to find a broadcast on an am radio station, well before MRN or TV broadcast. It’s not just yankees who don’t know or appreciate the people who helped make Nascar what it is today or preferably what it was 5 or 10 years ago.

      Dave

  • Blane Moon says:

    My father and I began watching Jimmy in Huntsville in 1970, and followed his career. He’s a class act, and was behind the wheel. It’s about time Huntsville…other than Ronnie White(who wrote great articles) gives him some long due publicity. Way to go “Smut”.

  • Fred Cory says:

    What a class act! A great guy and super individual. Jimmy has been so nice to so many people in the sport over the years, its great to see him receive some attention. Good luck to the 52 durring the rest of 2009.

  • Rickey Green says:

    I think this is great, I live in Rutherford Co. NC where Jimmy has his shop and drive by there several times a week and see him working late. He is just a ordinary guy when you see him at a nearby resturant or any other store.
    Congratulations Jimmy