By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Could you have imagined the late Dale Earnhardt as the Rowdy Burns character in the 1990 stock car racing film “Days of Thunder?”
According to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who on Saturday night will make his last trip around Daytona International Speedway in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, that casting scenario might have been close to the truth.
“The rumor was they offered Dad the role of Rowdy Burns,” Earnhardt said on Friday during a question-and-answer session with reporters. “I don’t know if that is really true or not, but that was the rumor. But Dad turned it down because he didn’t want to play the bad guy.
“Just a rumor, I don’t know if it is true or not. I was so young, you hear the rumor later, but I never did get a chance to figure out if it was really true or not.”
The part of Rowdy Gaines ultimately went to Alabama-born actor Michael Rooker, who played one of the primary adversaries to Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise.
And though Dale Jr. doesn’t recall with certainty whether the Rowdy role was offered to his father, he remembers vividly Cruise’s visit to the Earnhardts’ Deer Head race shop (so named for the hunting trophies that lined the walls).
“Tom Cruise comes over to the Deer Head Shop,” Earnhardt said. “DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) wasn’t built yet. So we are excited. We are going to meet Tom Cruise. Me and (sister) Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) are there – we are giddy.
“And he comes in… he’s about a foot shorter than I thought he’d be, and he had pimples all over his face. I remember that. They (Cruise and the film’s producer and director) go into Dad’s office. And they come out 30 minutes later, and I guess they were picking Dad’s brain.
And that’s where the rumors originated.
In true “Days of Thunder” fashion, NASCAR fans will be able to ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Saturday night, when the in-car video from the No. 88 Chevrolet will be live-streamed on Facebook Live during the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
Viewers will be able to get an up-close look at Earnhardt’s last ride at “The World Center of Racing” as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.