Jerry Gappens, the longtime publicist for Lowe's Motor Speedway, recalls track president Humpy Wheeler wanting to get Earnhardt for a couple of functions, but Earnhardt's schedule didn't permit it. Wheeler, who had a good relationship with Earnhardt, was a little upset, and that got back to Dale. That's when Gappens got an intimidating visit.
This is the most I've ever been intimidated by Earnhardt: I was trying to hook up with him for a press conference and an autograph session for one of our big Auto Fairs. Typical bad luck: every time I wanted him to do something, he had a conflict and couldn't do it. I was working through his publicist and Don Hawk, his business manager at the time. Humpy wanted to know about Earnhardt, and I said, "He was busy and couldn't do it, blah, blah, blah." That kinda made Humpy mad.
Well, Earnhardt always comes here to get his tickets. He had a condo here, and Humpy would give him his tickets. Earnhardt'd make a tour through the speedway offices, say hi to people, pick up his tickets, sign stuff for employees. After I told Humpy about not being able to get Earnhardt over this three-month stretch, it made him mad. Dale had a lot of respect for Humpy; he and Humpy were very close. Humpy said, "I'll talk to him the next time I see him. He's not too big to help out."
I'm on the phone one afternoon, and the door was open. All of a sudden, Earnhardt walks through my door, followed closely by Don Hawk. Eanhardt stops, shuts the door, and locks it. I think, Oh, my goodness, this is big here. He's towering over my desk, so I say, "How are you doing?" He said, "I'm doing fine. I just want to find out what our problem is. I just went to Humpy's office, and I'm sideways with Humpy." That's exactly how he said it, "sideways with Humpy. He said. "I don't need to be sideways with Humpy. He mentioned some press stuff that didn't get done. I want to try to straighten it out."
I gave him the three situations we were talking about. He says, "Here we go: If you need a press conference, call J.R. Rhodes, my publicist. If you need an autograph, call Don Hawk. Hawk, give him your numbers." Hawk gave me his business number, his home phone number, his cell-hyone number. I had about six numbers for Don Hawk.
He said, "Jerry, all I ask is that you give me enough advance notice so I can get it on my schedule, because my schedule is cramped." I said, "I understand," and he said, "I don't need to be sideways with Humpy. This is my home track, and I don't want to be sideways with anybody here. I want to help out, just like I always have. We have an understanding. And I understand my role it that." So he says, "Are we square?" and I say, "Yes sir." And he reached over and pinched my nose, twisted my nose a little bit. If he liked people, he always pestered them a bit.
I'd just been put in charge of public relations. Eddie Gossage had just gone to Texas to be the general manager there, and I though, Here I have one of Winston Cup's best drivers in my office, and he's going to whip my butt right here. It was a real businesslike conversation, and he that me that real crappy Earnhardt-like grin. After it was over, he even asked me about my pictures of my kids, what they did, what they liked. He looked around the office because of the racing mementos.
After that, he always helped us out, but I understood where he got the name "the Intimidator."