Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Paying Homage to Boxer and Friend Arturo Gatti

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJuly 11, 2009

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has many interests outside of racing.

The decorations in his home in North Carolina are proof of that: Memorabilia from the NFL's Washington Redskins, a piano, and a spot near the western town of Whisky River. 

Years ago he began to take an interest in boxing, and it wasn't long until he had a boxing ring installed in his garage to goof off with his friends.

During one of those such times, on his birthday weekend a few years ago, the result was Earnhardt Jr. showing up to the track with a black eye.

But it was in 2003 that Earnhardt Jr. got to meet a boxer that he had taken interest in by the name of Arturo Gatti. 

After that he was attending Gatti's fights and even went ringside wearing a Team Gatti warm up jacket.

Gatti, in return, not only went to Earnhardt Jr.'s home and stepped into the boxing ring with him, but soon began attending races in Daytona and Homestead-Miami.

Gatti once said, "Meeting him was great for me. He came to my next fight....he supported me and now I've been to a couple of his races...It's the greatest thing being in the pits. I told him, 'Yo, you spoiled me. I can never go and watch a NASCAR race if I'm not in the pits.'"

An instant friendship was born.

"He represents what I think all fighters should be," Earnhardt Jr. says. "He brings a magnitude of heart and determination to the ring I hadn't witnessed before."

Earnhardt Jr. said he got his hands on classic films to watch and study, much like he does with racing, of every Gatti fight. He said he wanted to be up on everything in his career. 

Saturday night in Chicagoland, Gatti will once again be with Earnhardt Jr., but this time in spirit.

Early Saturday, Arturo Gatti was found dead in his hotel room in Brazil.

Gatti, 37, was at a tourist hotel with is wife and 1-year-old son, both of which did not receive any injuries. Investigators say they are not clear on the events that led to his death, but a spokeswoman said that no gunshot or stab wounds were found, but there were blood stains on the floor.

Gatti had retired from boxing in 2007.

Earnhardt Jr.'s publicist, Mike Davis, wrote on his Twitter page that he was "Stunned about Arturo. Stunned," and that just this past Wednesday they were talking about him.

Former publicist to Earnhardt Jr., Jade Gurss says that for Saturday's race Earnhardt Jr. has "GATTI" on his helmet for his friend. 

"After watching a Gatti fight, I'm ready to take on anyone in the field on any given Sunday at the track," Earnhardt Jr. said back in 2007. "Going 500 laps on a short track or 500 miles on a superspeedway is no easy task, but a bit of an inspiration and confidence can make anything possible."

Upon climbing onboard his No. 88 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Jr. will try to take that inspiration and turn it into an emotional win in Chicago.

Quote Source: boxingconfidential.com