Dale Jr. meets his dad's barber

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't often come across people who can give him a new perspective on his father.

He did Friday at Michigan International Speedway, when Suave Men brought Junior together with Steve Ellsworth, Dale Senior's longtime barber.

Ellsworth started cutting the seven-time Cup Series champion's hair in the early 1980s, and he was eventually even allowed to groom Earnhardt's famous mustache.

"I was intimidated by the Intimidator, to say the least," recalled Ellsworth with a chuckle.

"The first three times I cut his hair, I couldn't touch the mustache. He liked that big bushy mustache. I finally talked him into to it, and he said, 'Oh Lord! Wrangler's gonna fire me!"

"I thought, 'That guy is never going to come back.' But he did, and he brought this guy [Junior] with him."

"The first three times I cut his hair, I couldn't touch the mustache. He liked that big bushy mustache. I finally talked him into to it, and he said, 'Oh Lord! Wrangler's gonna fire me!'"
Steve Ellsworth on Dale Earnhardt Sr.

While driving a full-time schedule for Richard Childress Racing and building up Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s racing operations, Earnhardt was a notoriously busy man. He had to work hard to find the time for a mundane task like getting a haircut.

"He used to joke that it was hard to keep him still after 5:30 in the morning," Ellsworth recounted. "Three or four times, he wanted to get a haircut, and if I didn't have any openings, I'd ask what time he could come. He said, 'How 'bout that 5:30 deal?' He'd usually come in with an egg sandwich or something.

"One time he said, 'This really isn't fair to you or me -- we've really got to quit this,'" Ellsworth said. "So then I actually used to go into the [DEI] shop fairly often to cut his hair. He'd say, 'I've got a shoot tomorrow for Coke, or whoever it may be, and I gotta have a haircut.' So I kept tools at home so I could run to the shop and cut his hair. I'd cut his hair and my son would go fishing in the pond out back."

A who's who of NASCAR has passed through the Kannapolis, North Carolina, barbershop Ellsworth has operated for more than 30 years, and television pit reporter Matt Yocum shared a story about Earnhardt and Ellsworth that reflects the kind of community and camaraderie that haircutting establishments are often known for.

"I remember in 2000 it was Champions Week, so I called Ellsworth and said, 'I gotta get in,'" Yocum said. "He says, 'All right, be here at 5:50 tomorrow morning.' So I pull up at 5:45, and there's a red Silverado, catalytic converter still ticking.

"I walk in, and there's Big E [Earnhardt]. He says, 'Sit down, we gotta talk!' He wanted to know all about the new TV package, and sure enough, he was there at 5:50 a.m. getting a trim."

That was business as usual, albeit after hours -- well, before hours -- for Ellsworth.

"It was a privilege and an honor to do his hair all those years, because as big as he was, anybody would have wanted to cut his hair, or be able to say they cut his hair," he said. "He could have gone anywhere, but he'd find time to come to me."

The memory has faded for Dale Jr., but Ellsworth actually cut his hair a few times when he was about 11 years old.

"Dad had to trust a man to go to him to get his hair cut, and I'm sure he and Dad had some great conversation, so it's neat that Suave has tied all this together," Earnhardt Jr. said.

"I don't even remember going and getting my hair cut, it was so long ago," he added. "But to hear some of Steve's unique stories is a lot of fun and it's a side of Dad that I don't think any of us has ever seen."