NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kannapolis Intimidators explain why they’re dropping Dale Earnhardt’s famous nickname

Dale Jr: My father’s career without a Daytona 500 victory is completely different

Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr said on Sunday, February 18, 2018 that how fans remember his father's career would have been completely different if he had never won a Daytona 500.
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Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr said on Sunday, February 18, 2018 that how fans remember his father's career would have been completely different if he had never won a Daytona 500.

In a letter to fans, the Kannapolis Intimidators on Thursday explained why the Class A minor league baseball team is likely to replace its name, made famous by hometown hero Dale Earnhardt.

The team doesn’t own “and therefore cannot confidently build around the Intimidator name” as it moves to the city of Kannapolis’s new “Sports and Entertainment Venue” in 2020, team officials wrote.

Teresa Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt’s widow, owns the name, team official Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports last week.

Over the past week, the Intimidators invited fans to nominate new names for the team on its website. The deadline for submissions was midnight Wednesday.

The team received 1,223 submissions, according to Thursday’s letter to fans.

Some nominations “leaned on obscure mill terminology like ‘Bobbin Threaders’ and ‘Mule Fixers’ for inspiration,” according to the letter. “Others made us scratch our heads (the ‘Sheepsquatches?’). They all made us appreciate what a special place Kannapolis is. Even the Earnhardts shared their thoughts, and Dale Jr.’s suggestions were consistent with the views of many of you.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted his displeasure last week with the team’s announcement that it was looking for a new name.

“I remember how proud dad was of this,” Dale Jr. tweeted about the team adopting the name to honor his father, a Kannapolis native and NASCAR legend known as “The Intimidator.” “What a shame it has to end.”

Earnhardt died in the last lap of the Daytona 500 in February 2001. Dale Jr. recently retired from racing after being voted numerous times by fans as NASCAR’s most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt Plaza graces the heart of the city’s downtown, with a 9-foot, 900-pound bronze statue of Earnhardt serving as the centerpiece attraction, according to the Visit North Carolina website. The plaza “is one stop along The Dale Trail, a self-guided tour featuring other locations that are significant to Earnhardt’s legacy,” according to the website.

In a followup tweet last week, Dale Jr. suggested that if the name change was imminent, how about “‘Ironheads’ if they want to continue to honor Big E. #DoItForDale (or) ‘Cannons’ if they’d like to honor some history of the town itself. #CannonMills.”

In Thursday’s letter, team officials said “a large number of submissions were related to the area’s deep racing history. We’re eager to embrace this legacy at the new ballpark and feel very fortunate we’ll practically be co-located with Dale Earnhardt Plaza.”

Meeting with community officials and then hearing from fans online over the past week “reinforced that it is important to the community that we find ways to honor the ball club’s impressive history and its connection to Kannapolis’s favorite son, Dale Earnhardt,” according to Thursday’s team letter. “Stay tuned for more on these plans between now and Opening Day of the Sports and Entertainment Venue in early 2020.”

In January, team officials also met with former Cannon Mills workers, according to the letter. “As we go forward in this process, we will think seriously about ways to pay homage to this part of Kannapolis’s history, too,” officials said in the letter.

So when will the team announce a new name?

“Minor League Baseball rules say we can’t debut our new team name until after this season ends,” according to Thursday’s letter. “So join us at Intimidators Ballpark supported by Atrium Health for our home games starting this April through the regular season finale on August 29th, and we’ll have news for you shortly after that.”

Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.