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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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His years with DEI nearly at an end
With mixed emotions, Tony Eury Jr. leaves for Hendrick after today's Nextel race.
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007
TALLADEGA, Ala. - They cracked a few beers in the break room at Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Wednesday. Not exactly company policy, but it was after hours, and this wouldn't become a habit. It couldn't.
Tony Eury Jr. had worked at this shop, for this team built by his uncle since he was a teen and only allowed to sweep floors. He became a mechanic, a car chief, a crew chief for his cousin, Nextel Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes a former employee tonight.
Eury will arrive Monday at the Hendrick Motorsports campus in Concord, N.C., pick up his key card, likely a stack of new blue team shirts and settle into his corner of the "5/25" shop.
Earnhardt, leaving DEI for competitive reasons, he says, but leaving behind a contentious business relationship with his stepmother/team-owner, Teresa, won't join his cousin until after this season.
"I never thought I'd leave here. Well, not when Big E was around, because you didn't really care. You were working for a friend," Eury said, referring to Dale Earnhardt Sr. "I looked forward to every weekend coming home and him patting me on the back and telling me what a good job I did. That's not really there right now, so I'm just looking forward to going somewhere else and doing things for me and helping Dale Jr. out."
As Eury oversaw preparation of Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevrolet on Friday, though clearly excited about his opportunity at statistically the sport's best team, there was a palpable sadness.
"It's a pretty tough deal," he said, hands thrust hard in the pockets of black jeans. "It'll be easier (today) than it was on Wednesday. This family has been together a long time. I'm still going to be there for my friends. I'm just not going to see them on an everyday basis. I have a lot of respect for the guys that work in that shop, and I'll see them around."
The things they did in that shop created a virtual dynasty in the restrictor plate races that make up just four of 36 races on the Nextel Cup schedule but generate much of its glory and star-making power.
From 2001 to 2004, Earnhardt won six times at Daytona and Talladega - including the 2004 Daytona 500 - and finished second three times in 16 races during that span. Then-teammate Michael Waltrip won four times - the only victories of his 23-year, 685-race career - and finished second twice.
Together, they were an express ticket to the front of the pack at Daytona and Talladega.
"Watching Michael and Dale Jr. out there together was like watching two eagles soaring through a canyon," DEI technical director Steve Hmiel said. "It was magic."
The magic began to fade when NASCAR stopped changing body styles and engines, Hmiel said. Other teams, notably Hendrick, learned the aerodynamic nuances.
That coincided roughly with an overall downturn in DEI's performance. Earnhardt hasn't won a race in his past 55 starts, though teammate Martin Truex Jr. qualified for the Chase for the Championship and won at Dover. Earnhardt missed the Chase after suffering six engine failures in 26 "regular season" races after he said this summer that he will leave DEI.
Eury, unhappy with the spate of engine issues, was granted permission to leave early as Earnhardt raced out the season.
Although Eury called today's race "as exciting as going back to Daytona and winning (the 2001 Pepsi 400) after (Earnhardt Jr.'s) daddy got killed there," his cousin was not nearly as sentimental.
"(His departure is) just a couple weeks sooner than the end of the season," Earnhardt said after qualifying 35th. "Instead of Homestead, it's this weekend. It doesn't really feel any different."
But he won't be walking into his new shop Monday.
"I actually have to go over here and find out what time I need to be at work," Eury said, gesturing toward Jeff Gordon's transporter. "I'll be there, ready to go."