Driver of the Week: Nationwide spots good times for Earnhardt
By: Raygan Swan, NASCAR.COM
Ever wonder whose kitchen that is where Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister are standing in those Nationwide Insurance commercials?
Well, it isn't his. It's a loaner from a high-end neighborhood on Lake Norman in North Carolina where Joe Gibbs lives.
What about the phone?
Nope, that's not his either. It's Nationwide's trademark prop.
However, the cast of characters is real. Yes, that is his sister, Kelley Earnhardt, and his uncle, Tony Eury Sr. The spots tout the Earnhardt family image and 30-year dedication to the insurance provider.
And yes, that is even the same insurance agent, Steve Cook of Kannapolis, N.C., Earnhardt met when he was a young boy. Earnhardt and Cook shot their commercial and a couple of others in December building off last year's Nationwide advertising campaign.
"I couldn't believe it but Steve was nervous," Earnhardt laughed. "Being an agent and having the ability to talk to people, that surprised me. He was funny, unintentionally that is. But yes, he's legitimately been my agent for all these years. I remember having to go to him about speeding tickets and all kinds of stuff. He was a good family friend."
Earnhardt enjoyed shooting the commercials because it offered the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with friends and family away from his hectic NASCAR lifestyle.
"It was good to be around him that long because we don't get to talk that much and I've know him for all these years and then being able to shoot a commercial with him was cool. We were both just standing there thinking who would ever thought we'd be doing this," Earnhardt added.
Eury didn't think he'd ever be in any commercial campaign. The crew chief for Earnhardt's No. 88 Nationwide Series team is most comfortable under the hood of a car, not in front of a camera. Thankfully for him, his commercial shoot was at the JR Motorsports shop so he wasn't totally outside his element.
Still, commercial stardom is not in Pop's future, joked Earnhardt .
"Working with Pops, um he was really nervous ... he would just assume not be in the middle of it," Earnhardt said.
"Oh yeah," Eury said with a laugh. "We made like probably 10 or 12 different shots or scenes and every scene we did it took like three each with different camera directions.
"They tell you what expressions to make and when to nod your head where. They tell you all that, but actually it was pretty neat to see how they do it."
There was a time Earnhardt, now a seasoned commercial actor, was admittedly just as tense.
"It's not comfortable doing a commercial when there's 15 or 20 people on the other side of the camera watching you and it's tough when you're young and an introvert anyway," Earnhardt said. "I think you get more comfortable with experience but the first several commercials you're nervous and stiff. I took me a long time to get comfortable with it but now I can go in there and I know what I want to accomplish. I know how long things take and I can help move it along."
So, are there any Oscar-nominated films in your future, Dale Robertson ... err Earnhardt?
"Those are still nerve-wracking because I get star struck," he smiled.
Hard to imagine the sport's most popular driver and one of the world's most recognizable athletes still gets star struck.
But Earnhardt didn't reach his commercial star status overnight. Like other commercial actors, he's gone through the ropes and on-the-set-training.
"Absolutely, the directors all have a lot of experience working with a lot of different people and they'll give you tone and sort of [tell you] what to say, obviously, before you do the commercial," he explained. "You have to see it in your head kind of all happening together. Sometimes, you get to commercial shoots and read the script and you don't understand how it is working and don't know what the tone is. Whether you're being demanding or coy or whatever, you don't know what emotion to have. So they go through that during the process as your shooting it. And then it is easy, they tell you what to do and you just do it. That's all there is to it."
It's lights, camera, action ... but what about wardrobe?
"They have choices and you choose what you're most comfortable in," Earnhardt said. "They never force you to wear something you don't want to wear. I've been in situations where they put some options out that I won't wear."
Defined by his iconic white T-shirt and jeans accessorized with a pair of sneaks, the star keeps it simple.
"I love shoes," said Earnhardt, who says he custom-designs up to eight pairs in one order. "But then you get them back and you realized you screwed up this part or man, that was a poor choice of color, so five out of the eight are cool. Then you give the other three pair to your buddy and say, 'Hey, I got you a gift."