DEI cheapening Earnhardt's legacy

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Dale Earnhardt is Tweeting from the grave. Sort of.

While it's safe to say those words have never before been strung together in the history of, well, human language, what's more remarkable is how Earnhardt's legacy is being turned into a carnival show.

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Together Teresa and Dale Earnhardt built Dale Earnhardt, Inc., which won 24 races in its 13-year existence.

(AP)

Tweeting under the user name daleday09, someone at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. typed (below a picture of Earnhardt clad in sunglasses), "Just reviewed plans for the April 29 birthday celebration – the cake is looking great!"

Really? So what you're telling us about the upcoming event is that you've already started baking a cake for a birthday party that won't take place for another two weeks?

To catch a glimpse of why DEI is swirling down the crapper, and in the process dirtying the legend of the late Dale Earnhardt, one needs to do little more than look at a DEI-approved press release sent out this week detailing "Dale Earnhardt day [sic] Fan celebration."

Aside from a grammatically challenged headline, there's the fact that Dale Earnhardt Day isn't even on Dale Earnhardt's birthday. It will be held on May 15, when DEI will unveil the "Earnhardt Elvis No. 3 Chevrolet." Fans can drop by DEI headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., to see the car and, if they're lucky, get an autograph from Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola.

Note: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be in attendance.

Dale Earnhardt Day actually comes on the heels of the "First Look Event Dinner," when adults and children can be the first to view Earnhardt and Elvis memorabilia and meet executives from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as well as the director of archives from Graceland – all for the low price of $39.95 and $19.95, respectively.

Oh joy.

If it seems that celebrating the life of Dale Earnhardt has taken a backseat to selling Dale Earnhardt, it has. And sadly, that makes sense for a cash-strapped organization.

At this point, it's easy to pile on Teresa Earnhardt for refusing to sell part or all of DEI to Dale Earnhardt Jr. The company no longer exists as an independent racing organization, and last week the newly formed Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing announced the parking of the No. 8 – the same car Earnhardt Jr. made the most popular in NASCAR – because of a lack of funding.

However imprudent a business decision letting Junior walk turned out to be, it was Teresa's decision to make. She did, after all, have a heavy hand in the construction of DEI from the ground up, so she deserves the right to see it through – even if that means watching the organization crumble to the ground.

Still, DEI without Earnhardt Jr. has become what Tony Stewart said it would: a museum, one where its most saleable commodity is no longer alive.

And so, like John Daly – who this past weekend could be found hawking autographs in a parking lot down the road from Augusta National – DEI under Teresa's watch is left to use her late husband's birthday as an opportunity to peddle Earnhardt/Elvis gear.

Is this understandable? In this economy, sure. Still, it's distasteful. But more than that, it's disturbing to wonder where this is going. Anyone who has ever been to Graceland knows Elvis is no longer an artist. He's merchandise now.

The path the Earnhardt brand is on is seemingly straight out of the Gene Simmons School of Brand Management, where plastering your name on anything that moves is encouraged. The difference is Simmons is at the controls, smartly turning his Kiss alter ego into a paid caricature, while Earnhardt is gone, leaving the management of his brand up to others.

And what have they come up with this week?

A poorly written press release that includes a link to an embarrassing Twitter message, each promoting a two-week long event its organizers have made to sound more like one of those trunk shows held in a banquet hall at the local Holiday Inn than a celebration of an American icon.

Harsh? Maybe, but does this celebration seem befitting of Earnhardt, who cultivated a persona so big he warranted three nicknames?

To be sure, this isn't about nitpicking or even about what, if anything, is rightfully Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s. This is about wondering what else these caretakers of Earnhardt's legacy have up their sleeves.

For now, just be thankful that Twitter limits all posts to 140 characters. In this case, that's called damage control.