Yesterday we heard that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (known as Junior) was leaving the company founded by his father, where his stepmother, Teresa, is now CEO. As the New Haven Register phrased it: “Junior leaving family business.” According to the Associated Press, Junior had asked for 51 percent ownership of the team now run by Teresa and tense negotiations on a contract extension had been unsuccessful.
As a mediator I was struck by the particular focus on the implications of Junior’s move for him individually, for the company (DEI), and for NASCAR generally. Junior held a news conference and Teresa issued a statement. Junior said: “There’s some things you can’t get with money, peace of mind and satisfaction in what you do everyday.” Teresa spoke of future plans for DEI. What we did not hear was backstabbing, recriminations, and finger-pointing, and the media’s most interesting speculation was about what Junior’s new status as a free agent will mean for racing. We did not witness a spectacle of a public family — and family business — meltdown played out for all to see.
Conflict may be inevitable, but the infliction of maximum damage is not.