It might seem that all of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s children inherited his love for and involvement in stock car racing. Dale Jr. is, of course, one of the biggest names in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, and his older half-brother, Kerry, has also raced in all three major NASCAR circuits. Dale Jr.’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, is the co-owner of JR Motorsports.
Their youngest half-sister Taylor Earnhardt Putnam, 23, has a different passion.
“Ever since I got on a horse when I was younger, it was always something I wanted to do,” she said.
Now Taylor, the only daughter of Dale Sr. and third wife Teresa, has turned that love into a barrel-racing career, and she’ll be in action at the SRA Rodeo at the Western Carolina State Fair on Friday and Saturday.
Even though she doesn’t go 200 miles per hour in a stock car like her brothers, her chosen sport has its risks. Dale Jr. has been in the news recently with the announcement that he will miss two races due to repeated concussions, and Taylor said that concussions and neck injuries are a possibility in barrel racing because of balance issues around the barrels. She added that one of her friends has just recently gotten back into action after a neck injury.
“It’s a dangerous sport,” she said. “There’s the dangers, of course, falling.”
That hasn’t stopped her from doing both barrel racing and breakaway roping, which won’t be offered at this weekend’s event. She even married into the rodeo business, having wed calf roper Brandon Putnam in May.
The couple competed in the same circuits when they were younger but never met, and Brandon had gotten out of the sport. He got back in because of riding with Taylor, and she said he hasn’t looked back since.
“He’s happy that I made him buy a horse,” she said, adding that Brandon will also be in competition this weekend.
When she isn’t competing in rodeos, Taylor enjoys hunting deer, elk, turkey and duck, among other game, but she said her schedule’s been a little too busy lately for much hunting.
“I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to get in the woods as much as I wanted to,” she said.
Near her home in North Carolina, Taylor gets the most chances to hunt turkey and duck, but she said her favorite outdoor pastime is elk hunting out west. She even appeared on the Outdoor Channel’s “RMEF Team Elk.”
Because of the mountainous terrain that must be traversed to track elk, Taylor said that she hits the gym and runs in preparation for any elk hunt.
“It is a physical challenge,” she said.
In between her rodeos and hunting, Taylor said she does enjoy taking in a NASCAR race. Even though she was competing Saturday, she hoped to get to the Sprint Cup race in Charlotte. Dale Jr. is sitting out of the race.
“I like to go to some of the bigger races when my schedule permits,” she said.
Danger doesn’t deter her taste in stock car races, either. She lists as her favorite tracks Daytona – where her father died in 2001 – and Talladega – where Dale Jr. suffered his most recent concussion. The Earnhardt family has long had a positive connection with Talladega, though, with both Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. winning more Sprint Cup races there than any other track – 10 and 5, respectively.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks,” Taylor said of the Alabama track.
Even in one of stock car racing’s royal families, Taylor has been able to convert some relatives to the rodeo. Kerry’s daughter, Kayla, has started riding with her aunt, and Taylor said the seed has been planted for another horse lover in the Earnhardt family.
“She’s got the bug now,” Taylor said of her niece.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.