Earnhardt Family Fighting Over Whether One Earnhardt Son Can Use His Own Last Name

from the and-they're-off dept

You may not be aware of this, but apparently Teresa Earnhardt, widow of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the NASCAR driver who died mid-race in 2001, is a staunch protector of her deceased husband’s name. I was one of those not aware of this, primarily because NASCAR is every bit as foreign to me as curling (hi, Canadians!). Her latest attempt to block the use of the Earnardt name is particularly interesting, since those she is opposing are her dead husband’s son and his son’s wife.

That couple? Dale Earnhardt’s son Kerry Earnhardt and Kerry’s wife, Rene. Kerry and Rene helped design and promote the “Earnhardt Collection” of homes built by Schumacher Homes. They also plan to add furniture to the Earnhardt Collection brand.

Teresa Earnhardt, Kerry’s stepmother and Dale’s widow, doesn’t want the couple to use the name Earnhardt Collection and filed an appeal last week in federal court over a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling that denied Teresa’s challenge to the “Earnhardt Collection” trademark applied for by Kerry Earnhardt Inc.

The details here display what appears to be a very untidy family relationship issue. Teresa is Kerry’s stepmother, not his mother, and Kerry had taken his mother’s married name, upon her re-marrying, several years after the divorce from Dale Sr. Teresa is actually Dale Sr.’s third wife, meaning there was another one in the middle of this divide. None of that is meant to cast any shade on Teresa, to be clear, but the fact of the matter is that Kerry was born an Earnhardt and even reverted to his born last name after beginning a relationship with Dale Sr. in his teenage years. As Game-of-Thrones-ish as this all sounds, the fact is that Kerry, and by extension his wife, are Earnhardts at least as much as Teresa is.

It’s also a strain to understand how much confusion is going to be caused by Kerry using his last name for a home and furniture business. Teresa’s filing attempts to assert that there will be plenty, but the USPTO didn’t buy it.

Teresa Earnhardt didn’t testify in the case but states in her appeal that the name Earnhardt Collection is likely to deceive or cause confusion among people that the homes and products are endorsed by Dale Earnhardt or by her.

I wish there was a more delicate way to state this, but nobody is going to mistake Kerry’s use of his own last name as meaning that Dale Earnhardt Sr. endorsed the products… because he’s dead. Were he to endorse anything at all, the world would be having a very different conversation than one about a trademark dispute, likely having to do with building an entire religion around the now-resurrected Dale Sr. That’s what tends to happen, after all. As for anyone thinking that Teresa was doing the endorsing? Look, I already said I’m no racing fan, but how many racing fans could even pick Teresa Earnhardt out of a police lineup if they had to? If you listed the most famous Earnhardts, where would she rank? Third at absolute best? Why would anyone make that connection?

Based on comments from Kerry, this all actually sounds like a messy family engaging in petty squabbling.

Kerry said he has no relationship with Teresa. He was fired from Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2011 at around the time he began working with Schumacher Homes, he said in testimony.

“Just me and my wife trying to build a brand for our family and everything, and then for her to come and oppose it — I don’t think if you had a relationship that any family member would do that,” Kerry said in his testimony.

I would expect Teresa’s appeal to fail. There’s no customer confusion here.

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Comments on “Earnhardt Family Fighting Over Whether One Earnhardt Son Can Use His Own Last Name”

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Narcissus says:

Re: Schumacher

My thoughts exactly! The Schumacher name adds another layer to this. It’s a common enough name in Germany though, so most likely there is no connection at all.

I am so into NASCAR that at seeing the title I thought we were talking about the offspring of Amelia until a quick Google learned me she’s actually called Earhart…

Anonymous Coward says:

It may seem crass, given the circumstances but here’s a piece of advice: “Date the Ferrari, Marry the Ford.”
Not knowing anything about the case I was flabbergasted for all 10 lines until I read she’s not the guy’s real mom.

Reminds me of another techdirt article about a week ago:

Went straight for the big prize, didn’t she !?
Didn’t even try to fake it by saying it was in poor taste and an affront to the the memory of her husband.

Ice cold man, if this isn’t gold digging I don’t know what it is.

Skeeter says:

Patents, Trademarks and Channeled Ownership

Years ago I worked in a conventional ‘heavy manufacturing’ industry, wrapped with miles of classical ‘Patent and Trademark’ protections. In classical PTO (as opposed to the insanity of ‘intellectual property rights’), the rule is generally explained like this:
You can have a protection for ‘MUSTANG’, but it must be applied (is that a blender, or a car, you are naming?). Once accepted, and you tie your iconography to it (so you want a horse, do you?) then you have ‘brand recognition’, but you also put them into a ‘product bucket’ (nice horse on that car’s hood, eh?)
Ok – but 40-years later, a guy wants to name his new sneaker design ‘MUSTANG’, after his long-dead dog. Can he do it? ABSOLUTELY! As long as his icon is a dog, he is SOLELY (pardon the pun) describing and selling sneakers, does not at any time try to tie ‘sneakers-to-cars’ in any allegorical way, then yes.
Examples of this get blurry at times. A car named ‘MUSTANG’ and a car trailer named ‘MUSTANG’ could possibly end up seeing each other in court. They are both on the road, they are complimentary of each other, and they are seen by major segments of each other’s marketplace. Shoes are safe, inter-related markets not as much.

Earnhardt? If you know NASCAR, you know they have slapped this poor (very rich) guy’s deceased name on everything from toys to clothes to cars to car-dealerships. Go ‘Down South’, and you have everything from roads to kid’s schools named after him. He’s the ‘Car Elvis’ of the Redneck world.
Branding has also caused that $5 coffee cup to become a $25 collectible, instantly, too.

That said, if it has a black label and a number ‘3’ on it (his former racecar’s painted-on number), you’re PAYING for it (like a real, licensed NBA jersey!). Can ‘Ma’ Earnhardt fight this for real? Absolutely. Likewise, son not only ‘ditched the name’ and ‘badmouthed old dad’, but ‘Ma’ and ‘Son’ have been at war over the MEGA-BILLION name empire for 15-years.

Don’t feel pity for either, but don’t expect son to so-easily win this one. It is a ‘Oracle-vs-Google’ thing, and both sides have strong interest in winning, with a lot of pampered wealth to fund such a fiasco.

Major says:

Change that name

Well at least the family is trying to fight for the brand, because when you look at all the other games or beer that had to change their name…

But worry not ! in case one of them might have to i got these two handy substitute name for them :
Losehardt, Earneasyt

That would also make the title a tad more enjoyable :
Losehardt Family Fighting Over Whether One Earneasyt Son Can Use His Own Last Name.

W. Scot Grey says:

Who wants a Kelly Earnhardt home?

Likely Teresa Earnhardt doesn’t have a claim to the name in this instance as there could be no confusion between a NASCAR branded mouse pad and a Schumacher home, but I sympathize with her. Do you think Schumacher homes was really impressed by Kelly Earnhardt’s home design skills? Is he an established architect a’la Getty, or Wright? No, he’s an Earnhardt. Schumacher homes is counting on the worship of Dale Earnhardt to sell houses. People may not be “confused” by the brand, but their worship of that name will impinge on their home buying decision. What if Teresa’s motivation here is protecting her stepson from being taken advantage of? Maybe they’re all rich rednecks, but that doesn’t excuse Schumacher homes here. They are the ones really preying on this situation.

Another guy named Dan says:

There's been bad blood for years

At the time of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death, his business interests were controlled by an entity called Dale Earnhardt Enterprises, or DEI. Among other things, DEI ran a NASCAR race team that employed Dale Jr. and Kerry as drivers, as well as a third child (daughter) Kelley in PR roles, at various times.

Dale Sr.’s will stipulated that his estate, less personal home and effects, should go 50% to Theresa and the remaining 50% be equally divided among his four children.

Since the younger daughter, Theresa’s biological child, was still a minor, this gave Theresa a controlling interest in DEI. When the three older children attempted a buyout deal for at least the racing assets of the company, Theresa refused. After some acrimonious public infighting, the three older children sold out their interest in DEI to their stepmother, Kerry largely left Racing, and Dale Jr. founded Junior motorsports as his business entity.

This largely alienated Theresa from the NASCAR community, and the team sputtered along for only a few more years before selling off its remaining assets to another team, with Theresa retaining the rights to Dale Sr.’s name and likeness.

So the step-children and Theresa blame each other for the demise of DEI. Noticeably, Dale Jr. when asked about the situation will not refer to Theresa as his stepmother, only by her first name.

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