Taylor Earnhardt Putnam is carrying on the legacy of her famous father, although not on the track.
The 23-year-old daughter of seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt is making her mark in rodeo, outdoor sports and through her support of the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the education and preservation of wildlife.
She will be in Mountain City on Saturday to compete in barrel racing and breakaway roping events at the North American Professional Rodeo.
First introduced to barrel racing by a childhood friend, she has competed in the event for over a decade.
“At first, I really didn’t know what I was doing and kind of made a fool of myself,” she said. “But, I liked it so much that I kept going back.
“Then, my husband calf ropes and I had been practicing that for a while. Now, I feel confident enough to start competing in that as well.”
Unlike older siblings — Kerry, Kelley and Dale Jr. — who all followed their late father into the world of stock car racing, Taylor’s influence came more from their mutual love of the outdoors.
“I was very comfortable at the race track, but I’m 10 times more comfortable outside on the farm or hunting,” she said. “When I went to my first rodeo with my sister, I wanted to ride the sheep like all the other little kids. But, I love riding horses so much and I figured out there was something I could do, going fast and competing. That was my ticket right there.”
With her newfound passion, she attended barrel racing schools in Texas and South Carolina, and began competing in the Junior Southern Rodeo Association (JSRA), the Southern Rodeo Association (SRA) and the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA). In 2002, she earned the title of North Carolina NBHA Champion and in 2003 she was champion of the Southern Rodeo Association.
At age 19, she won the World Champion All-Around title at a racing event in Marshall, Texas and soon after won the prestigious All-American Barrel Race in Jackson, Miss.
It was at this time that Taylor met future husband, Brandon Putnam, a professional calf roper who owns a trucking and grading company near Charlotte.
While the young couple enjoy their rural lifestyle, they’re just as comfortable in the big city. They worked with famed wedding planner David Tutera for their May nuptials, and Taylor often travels alongside her mom, Teresa, on business trips to the Big Apple.
“I go from rodeos on the weekend to going up to New York with my mom,” she said. “I’m completely changing outfits, but I feel comfortable doing that.”
Still, there is a certain appeal with the outdoor lifestyle.
Taylor is a highly-skilled hunter, who accompanied her dad on hunting excursions from the time she was the five years old. Adept with a rifle, bow and shotgun, she has trophy mounts of elk, deer, turkey, dove, pheasant, wild hog and alligator in her North Carolina home.
She even appeared on the Outdoor Channel’s “RMEF Team Elk” show to showcase her elk hunting skills and to bring attention to the Dale Earnhardt Foundation’s conservation work with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Her appearance in Mountain City, where she will race the horse Packing Sixes Cowboy, is also designed to bring attention to her father’s foundation.
“Every event I go to, we try to promote it as much as we can,” she said. “With my affiliation with the foundation, I always try to use every event as a good opportunity to publicize it.”
Among her other special appearances, she drove her father’s famous black No. 3 Chevrolet for a special exhibition run at England’s Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2009 and she drove Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet at the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.
However, it is her time with the horses instead of a race car when she feels the greatest connection to her father. It brings back memories of their time together at the family’s Mooresville, N.C. farm.
“If he wasn’t at the race track, he was at the farm every day,” she recalled. “I remember mom would tell me to clean my room and I would sneak and call him, and he would bring two horses up to the front door and be like, ‘Teresa, I’m taking her.’ Being able to be out there with him every day, that’s what steered me towards what I’m doing today.”
In her pursuit of becoming an expert horse person, she spent a month in London in 2009 in the prestigious equestrian training program at Ross Nye Stables. She is currently listed as the Director of Equestrian Development for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., the racing and sports marketing company built by her parents.
“I’m working on a breeding and training program,” she said. “We’re working on bringing in some nice mares to get some young horses on the ground. All the horses we’ve got right now, are either horses my dad bought or are ones bred out of horses he bought. I’m trying to get the performance breeding mixed into that.”
Another of her passions is photography.
Her works, which include a wide collection of photographs from her extensive travels, have been shown at numerous exhibits.
Among her favorite trips are the ones related to the rodeo circuit and the camraderie shared with her fellow competitors.
“We travel all over the South and I always love going to Texas, but the year-end NBHA Open World Championships for barrel racing is probably the most fun event we go to every year,” she said. “It’s in Perry, Ga., and we go there for a week and a half. I think last year we had 900 and some entries.
“It’s just a big event at a big convention center with a lot of vendors where you can buy everything you need all year. But, it’s definitely the most fun event because you’re there for so long and you see your friends from all across the country you don’t see very often.”