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Dale Jarrett preps for NASCAR on NBC using dad’s lessons

Dale Jarrett hangs out at Road America in

Dale Jarrett hangs out at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on June 20, 2014. Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

For Darlington Raceway’s inaugural throwback race last year, NASCAR on NBC announcers wore retro clothing to go along with the vintage paint schemes on the track.

Dale Jarrett ended up in a checkered jacket with a wide lapel that probably seemed like a good idea many moons ago.

“It just makes you realize when you’re in the moment you don’t see things as they really are,” says Jarrett.

Such may also be the case when you’re the driver-turned-broadcaster son of a NASCAR Hall of Fame driver-turned-broadcaster. Ned Jarrett won 50 times in NASCAR’s premier series before retiring after the 1966 season and embarking on a career behind the microphone that culminated in his 2011 induction into the NASCAR Hall.

Dale Jarrett didn’t exactly limp in his father’s footsteps, winning the 1999 NASCAR Cup title and three Daytona 500 crowns -- the first of those coming in 1993 with his dad famously morphing from color announcer to cheerleader on the final lap.

Dale Jarrett joined ESPN after retiring in 2008, worked as a race analyst and went to NBC last year when the network acquired the NASCAR broadcast rights. He now works on the pre- and post-race shows with Krista Voda and Kyle Petty, and will be on the air Saturday night for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, NBC’s first Sprint Cup race of the 2016 season.

Dale Jarrett, 59, joined his father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014. But for him to see himself as his father’s equal, in his eyes, clashes more than that jacket at Darlington.

“I think that he far exceeded anything that I would do in either category,” Dale Jarrett said of both driving and broadcasting.

But that hasn’t stopped him from using his dad’s tutelage to try and make career No. 2 as successful as possible.

“He’s someone that doesn’t hold back,” Jarrett said of his dad. “He’s always had a way to give you constructive criticism without telling you you’re not doing your job.”

Jarrett quickly picked up on his dad’s first piece of advice, that the job would be a lot more work than he initially imagined. Ferreting the garage for tidbits with the mentality of a cub reporter as opposed to relying on one’s past as a star driver is the only way to be properly prepared.

“You’re basically on their schedule when they have time, and it’s really appreciated,” Jarrett said of drivers’ and crew chiefs’ tight schedules on the weekends.

But within all the preparation, the NBC job has provided a new challenge. As opposed to the drama of calling a race live, the pre- and post-race shows offer a unique opportunity to have a little more fun. That especially rang true in the post-race show in the middle of the Chase last year, when Joey Logano won three straight races and ended up on the post-race set after each victory.

At that point, Jarrett says, fans are looking for a different kind of insight.

“We’re not here to grill you about something that happened during the race,” he explains. “We’re here to show personalities and the fun side.”

These days Jarrett is having fun both at and away from the track. His schedule allowed him to see 53 of son Zach’s 57 games playing baseball for UNC Charlotte. And at the Darlington throwback race last year, Dale Jarrett traded that checkered jacket for a normal suit to call some laps with his dad and another legendary announcer, Ken Squier.

Jarrett still doesn’t think he’ll be as good as his dad, but it isn’t causing him any angst.

Said Jarrett, “I have no complaints about anything.”

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