Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR's most popular driver, and thus he gets the most attention from the media. As a result of all the coverage, fans have a pretty good idea of what makes Earnhardt Jr. tick and what drives him.
But while we've all read the stories about his love for video games and iRacing, is that how he spends all his spare time?
It couldn't be. I figured Earnhardt Jr. had to have some other hobbies, even if he insisted, "I really don't do a whole lot when you come down to it."
So during a recent question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters at a Degree Men commercial shoot, I asked Earnhardt Jr. to discuss his side interests.
At first, he eyed me warily while scratching his nose – as if he had no good answer to offer, and I should have already known that.
"I sit down at the house and wait for the next weekend, wait for the next race," he said.
But when he got into specifics, it turned out Earnhardt Jr. does quite a lot.
"I like to cook," the driver said. "I cook a lot of meals."
Whoa, what? Yes, it turns out Earnhardt Jr. has an interest in the culinary arts because, as he said: "I like to eat. Eating is good. Eating is fun."
So what does he cook?
"I do a lot of tacos, steak and chicken and salad (with) steak and chicken," he said. "I can cook French toast. I can cook anything."
OK, but anyone can "cook." That doesn't mean people will eat it. Is Earnhardt Jr. any good, or does he poison people who just eat his food to be polite?
"I'm good!" he insisted. "I think I'm good. I've cooked for my boss (Rick Hendrick) when I was trying to get hired. I had Rick over and cooked him a dinner with my sister; well, I cooked the dinner, but my sister was there."
"I cooked for my girlfriend, my mom. I like to cook. I get on the Internet and Google the recipes and try to make it."
Another reporter asked what meal Earnhardt Jr. prepared for Hendrick.
"Steak," he replied. "I don't really get too crazy. I can make my own French onion dip for chips. Because one day I was craving French onion dip for chips, and I didn't have any. All I had was ranch. So I got on Google and figured out the recipe and made it."
"I just Google whatever the hell I want to cook."
I don't fault a guy for wanting to cook his own food, but I was also a bit puzzled. Forbes estimates Earnhardt Jr. earns nearly $30 million per year, so doesn't he have someone to make food for him – or to go on a food run for some French onion dip?
"Nah," he said. "I've got a lady that does a little cleaning around the house, and if I asked her to cook, I'm sure she would. But I feel bad asking her to do it, because it's easy to do. I like to do it."
Earnhardt Jr. has gotten into collecting vinyl records and spends quite a bit of time listening to them.
"We built these big cases to hold the records, and they're nicely stacked in these nice cases," he said. "... I love listening to music. Like when I get home from the race on Sundays, I go to the basement and I listen to records all night until I get tired, because my adrenaline is going and I don't want to go to sleep."
"I might do that all day Monday. I might do whatever I got to do during the day and in the evening go downstairs and listen to records. Just play pool, whatever, piddlin' around, whoever's there, bullshittin', just sit there all night listening to vinyl."
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon unknowingly helped Earnhardt Jr. figure out a Wednesday night activity last month.
"We were listening to Flash Gordon," Earnhardt Jr. said, "because I've got it on this Queen album, it had just played. I was like, 'Man! 'Remember that movie?' And my buddy Sonny, my property manager, was like, 'Yeah!'"
"Then I went to Bristol, and that was Jeff's intro song. I was like, 'Holy shit! Man, we've got to get that movie and watch it.' So that's what we're doing tonight. 8 o'clock. My house."
"I watch a lot of TiVo," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I TiVo shows like The Office and Restaurant: Impossible."
What's Restaurant: Impossible about? I hadn't seen it before.
"It's where this cook goes into these restaurants and he fixes them," he said. "They're in trouble and about to be closed because they're in trouble. I like shows like that. I watch a lot of TV."
Earnhardt Jr. is also into the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. He writes down the DDD locations and tries to visit the out-of-the-way eateries whenever he's near one for a NASCAR race.
ESPN'S STREAK FOR THE CASH
There's a game on ESPN.com (as well as an app) called "Streak for the Cash," where players try to predict the outcome of random games and see how many in a row they can get correct.
Earnhardt Jr. plays Streak for the Cash in a league with other drivers and NASCAR industry types.
"I'm on the computer sort of looking for odds for these random-ass soccer games in the middle of the world somewhere," he said with a laugh. "Or like college lacrosse. I'm learning all kinds of shit about these teams that I never would ever have paid attention to otherwise. So that's funny to me, and I enjoy doing that."
Here's the difference between Earnhardt Jr. and many other Streak for the Cash players: He actually invests the time in watching the games take place.
"I get online with these live streams and watch these crazy games that nobody's watching – except for the people from wherever," he said. "I'm sitting there on a Wednesday watching these two Mexican B-(league) teams going at it. I'm like, 'C'monnnnn!'"
VIRTUAL FORMULA ONE TEAM MANAGER
Earnhardt Jr. enjoys playing an F1 management game at the site igpmanager.com. It's not a driving game, but instead puts players into the role of directing an F1 team – everything from negotiating deals with sponsors to signing drivers to developing the race strategy.
Players then sit back and watch the race from an aerial view.
"It's pretty simplistic," Earnhardt Jr. said. "So I warn you ... Don't expect it to be like iRacing."
As if all that isn't enough, Earnhardt Jr. hosts a basketball league at his house (the teams consist of his friends), is obsessive about fantasy football and enjoys playing with his dog.
Oh, and girlfriend Amy Reimann gets some of his time, too.
But even with all that, Earnhardt Jr. still thinks his home life would be boring to others.
"I really just sit around the house," he said.