NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kannapolis Intimidators drop name honoring Dale Earnhardt. Why they picked this new one

The Kannapolis Intimidators replaced their name made famous by hometown hero Dale Earnhardt with the new moniker “Cannon Ballers” Wednesday night.

“Cannon” pays homage to the former sheet and towel maker Cannon Mills that for decades employed thousands and dominated life in the city.

Team officials billed the event announcing their new name and mascot as “The Big Reveal.” The team held a street festival before unveiling the name and mascot at the circa-1948 Gem Theatre in downtown Kannapolis.

In a letter to fans in February, the Intimidators explained why the Class A minor league baseball team was likely to replace the name Earnhardt was known by because of his tenacity on NASCAR tracks.

The team doesn’t own “and therefore cannot confidently build around the Intimidator name” as it moves to the city of Kannapolis’s new “Sports and Entertainment Venue” in 2020, team officials wrote, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time.

The team will still recognize Earnhardt’s legacy by including the No. 3 within the new ‘CB’ logo on hats. That was the number on Earnhardt’s race car.

“The legendary NASCAR driver is also referenced, however obliquely, via the titular Cannon Ballers’ jumpsuit and bushy mustache, key aspects of the primary logo,” according to an article posted on Minor League Baseball’s website that was timed with the announcement.

The article quoted Dan Simon, the Louisville-based designer of the new logo, as saying “the Cannon Baller, like Earnhardt and all NASCAR racers, ‘lays it on the line every time he goes out there.’”

Teresa Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt’s widow, owns the name, team official Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports at the time.

The Intimidators invited fans to nominate new names for the team on its website early this year but said league rules prevented them from unveiling their selection until after the season ended.

The team received 1,223 submissions, according to the February letter to fans.

“Cannons was the No. 1 suggestion we received (from the fans),” team general manager Matt Millward said in a statement Wednesday night. “We really liked the name, but you can’t do much with it. So we took it to the next level.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. previously tweeted his displeasure with the team’s announcement that it was looking for a new name.

“I remember how proud dad was of this,” Dale Jr. tweeted about the team adopting the name to honor his father, a Kannapolis native and NASCAR legend known as “The Intimidator.” “What a shame it has to end.”

Earnhardt died in the last lap of the Daytona 500 in February 2001. Dale Jr. recently retired from racing after being voted numerous times by fans as NASCAR’s most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt Plaza graces the heart of the city’s downtown, with a 9-foot, 900-pound bronze statue of Earnhardt serving as the centerpiece attraction, according to the Visit North Carolina website. The plaza “is one stop along The Dale Trail, a self-guided tour featuring other locations that are significant to Earnhardt’s legacy,” according to the website.

In a followup tweet, Dale Jr. suggested that if the name change was imminent, how about “‘Ironheads’ if they want to continue to honor Big E. #DoItForDale (or) ‘Cannons’ if they’d like to honor some history of the town itself. #CannonMills.”

In their February letter, team officials said “a large number of submissions were related to the area’s deep racing history. We’re eager to embrace this legacy at the new ballpark and feel very fortunate we’ll practically be co-located with Dale Earnhardt Plaza.”

Meeting with community officials and then hearing from fans online “reinforced that it is important to the community that we find ways to honor the ball club’s impressive history and its connection to Kannapolis’s favorite son, Dale Earnhardt,” according to the team letter.

In January, team officials also met with former Cannon Mills workers, according to the letter.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.