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.