Earnhardts one big happier family?

April, 29, 2010
04/29/10
10:10
PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was a special moment in the Charlotte area on Thursday and it had nothing to do with Tiger Woods' opening round in the Quail Hollow Championship.

It happened 35 miles north of the city at Dale Earnhardt Inc., where the blue and yellow No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive in the July Nationwide race at Daytona was unveiled.

It is part of a tribute series to his dad, Dale Earnhardt, who would have turned 59 on Thursday had he not died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

But the unveiling wasn't what was so special. That Earnhardt Jr., sister Kelley Earnhardt and stepmother Teresa Earnhardt were there together was.

I wasn't there. I was wrapping up an 18-hole tour with Woods.

I wish I had been there, though. Since Earnhardt left the company his father built -- with Teresa -- after the 2007 season, there hasn't been a moment when those three have appeared in public together until now. They agreed to do it, as Earnhardt Jr. said, because "this day is all about my dad."

Perhaps it is a first step toward healing old wounds.

"He'd be happy about this," Earnhardt said of his father.

Earnhardt Sr., as we've always known, was the glue that held DEI together. He even had a way of making Earnhardt Jr. and Teresa get along.

"Me and Teresa always had a lot of respect for each other," Earnhardt said. "Dad had a way of bringing everybody together. Everybody worked together for the good of my father."

Earnhardt Jr. left after Teresa refused to give him at least 51 percent ownership in DEI. He went to what he hoped would be greener pastures at Hendrick Motorsports, although we're still waiting for that to materialize.

There are some who would love to see Earnhardt Jr. drive the No. 3 in the Cup series again, although the number belongs to Richard Childress, who also shared this moment. There are some who would love to see him return to DEI and restore the organization to its former glory. It has since merged with Chip Ganassi Racing and become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

"If dad were here, Dale Jr. would still be driving for DEI and I would never have gotten married," Kelley said.

A lot of things would be different.

Maybe Thursday was a sign that one day things will be different.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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