Dale Earnhardt Jr. is stepping out of the driver’s seat and behind the camera for USA Network’s unscripted series “Race for the Championship.” The athlete will executive produce the series, premiering Sept. 1, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the drivers and teams competing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I have such a passion and love for the sport that I feel like this type of content is something that our fans are starving for,” Earnhardt Jr. tells Variety. “It’s always a lot of fun to work on a project that is unique and about something you’re passionate about. So that makes it easy to want to dive in, give input and get feedback — and be a part of the process.”
He adds: “We need to give everyone a better opportunity to get to know the individuals that are involved in NASCAR. I think this is a great opportunity to put a very human element into what we do and into our identity. It’s something I think that should have a profound impact on perception of the sport and also to give our fans a deeper dive into each individual.”
While the former NASCAR driver has produced a few small projects since his 2017 retirement, this is unlike anything he’s worked on before.
“This is a little more personal. It’s about sport that I spent my entire life in and my family’s been so woven into the fabric of for decades. I feel like NASCAR is on this rise, and we’ve sort of turned a corner in terms of fan engagement and interest. We are really in the middle of what I think is one of the most intriguing seasons that we’ve ever experienced,” he says. “There’s a little bit of the old — the driver’s names that you might recognize, a little bit of history still there — but there’s a lot of new. There’s a lot of new challenges and there’s a lot of questions. I’ve never went into a season where I personally have more questions than answers. I think this show really will help people close the loop and give them a greater understanding of what’s been going on this year.”
The exhilarating 10-part series — which is in the vein of the Netflix docuseries “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” — will follow the drivers both on the track and at home with their families, highlighting the challenges of the new car, the training and the ins and outs of daily life as a driver leading up to the 2022 NASCAR Cup season and playoffs. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and other past champions will be featured, as well as other drivers trying to make their mark, including Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suárez, Ross Chastain, Corey LaJoie and others.
“It’s a great time to do something like this. We’ve got a blank canvas. This season’s been the artist; this whole year, we’ve been painting this new piece of art that we’re getting ready to put in front of people on the screen,” says Earnhardt Jr., noting that there’s a bit of a “generational change” going on in the sport. “There’s a wave of older drivers that are sort of phasing out and a younger crop of guys that are coming in with a completely different vibe and a completely different outlook on life.”
While he retired, Earnhardt Jr. just now feels like he’s finding his place in another seat: producer and broadcaster.
“I spent my entire life as a driver and the quarterback of the team and, for better or worse, the one that got all the attention. It’s an adjustment when that ends and when you make a change and move into a different role in your life. I made a lot of changes personally and professionally in the last several years that I’m getting more and more comfortable with,” he tells Variety. “The one thing that I try to focus on now is that I want to celebrate the drivers and I want to be an asset to them. I want the I want the drivers to enjoy this experience. I want them to be proud that they signed on to be a part of this. … It is an extra ask; it is requiring them to more, to be available and open themselves up.”