By Godwin Kelly, Motorsports Editor
DAYTONA BEACH — This is a warning to all drivers racing against Jeffrey Earnhardt in the July 6 Subway Jalapeno 250 Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
If you have any thoughts about spinning him out during the 100-lap run over the 2.5-mile tri-oval, you might want to consider he is a mixed martial arts fight winner.
“MMA is a tough sport,” he said of his lone MMA victory May 22. “It’s physically demanding in every way. You have to be strong. You have to be physically fit.”
The grandson of “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt was in town Tuesday to promote the Speedway’s no smoking in the grandstands policy.
His car will be sponsored in next month’s race, then at Homestead in November, by tobaccofreeflorida.com.
Motorsports has turned 180 degrees on smoking and tobacco products, considering Earnhardt’s grandfather was a seven-time “Winston” Cup Series champion.
“The sport was built with big tobacco backing, but today, it’s a whole new generation,” Earnhardt said before speaking to teenagers from across the state.
“Daytona is going smoke-free. That is good. It is a health concern. It’s good to see the sport changing and making a difference.”
Earnhardt, who turns 23 on Friday, was in grade school when his grandfather won the 1998 Daytona 500. Earnhardt’s uncle — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — snapped a 143-race losing streak Sunday.
“It was good to see him back in Victory Lane,” said Jeffrey, whose father, Kerry, is Dale Jr.’s half brother. “He’s in it to do it now. He’s coming back on top.”
Jeffrey Earnhardt has made four starts at the Speedway, including two Rolex 24 At Daytona appearances. He has a couple of Nationwide Series starts this season for Rick Ware Racing.
“I’m looking forward to Daytona,” Earnhardt said. “I ran here last year in the July race. We finished 19th, but we are looking for a much better run in July. We race for wins.”
Daytona is synonymous with the Earnhardt name. Jeffrey would like to see his name in the Speedway’s record book before it’s over.
“This is big for our family,” he said. “My grandfather built some pretty big shoes and I don’t think I can fill them, but (I) take a stab at keeping up where he left off. We want the Earnhardt name up front at Daytona.”
The Earnhardt name carries a tough image, and Jeffrey fits the mold of a scrappy, battle-ready racer. He showed his toughness away from the track.
Jeffrey was invited to an amateur MMA card in Charlotte and beat opponent Chris Faison in a unanimous decision. The two men battled in a cage at an event billed as Fight Labs 25.
“It was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it,” Earnhardt said. “It was completely different from what I expected. I have a ton of respect for any MMA fighter out there.”
Earnhardt said MMA and racing have similarities.
“MMA is a sport,” he said. “You want to be the best. To be the best, you have to beat that guy across from you. It’s really no different from racing. When I get in a race car, I want to beat every other driver on the track.
“My fight was only nine minutes long, but to me, it was like cramming in a whole entire race into nine minutes. It was more intense than driving a race car.”