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Racing Tracks: This Metal Concept Album Recounts the Day Dale Earnhardt Died During the Daytona 500

Meet Andrew Stromstad, the driving force behind metal band I Am the Intimidator
Andrew Stromstad performing in his band, I Am the Intimidator (Credit: Jett Frisbie)
Andrew Stromstad performing in his band, I Am the Intimidator (Credit: Jett Frisbie)

When the guy behind the one-man heavy metal project I Am the Intimidator pops up on the Zoom call, he’s wearing a helmet—tinted face shield down—and a throwback red-white-and-black jacket emblazoned with a large number “3” on the chest, the word EARNHARDT down the sleeve in big block letters.

“Am I speaking to …,” I stammer, suddenly but predictably feeling—you guessed it—intimidated. “Am I speaking to the ghost of the late, legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt?”

It’s a question that’s every bit as silly as it sounds. And the answer is no.

“I just like to wear the get-up. This is what I wear when we perform live,” the guy replies. “But I’m just little ol’ Andy.”

(Credit: Jett Frisbie)

More precisely, he’s Andrew Stromstad, bassist for Oregon-based doom metal band Atriarch and the driving force behind I Am the Intimidator, whose self-titled debut delivers six tracks of high-octane hilarity and high-quality riffage while recounting Dale Earnhardt’s last day on Earth—Feb. 18, 2001—when he tragically died in a crash during the Daytona 500. (Earnhardt’s nickname, famously, was “the Intimidator.”)

“There are some serious themes on the record, for sure. But there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff as well,” Stromstad says from his home studio in Portland. “I like walking that tightrope, you know?”

His balance is impressive on I Am The Intimidator. Sonically, it struts like classic hard rock—think Judas Priest, the Mark II era of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath’s 1983 album, Born Again, with Ian Gillan on vocals. (“People do not like that album,” Stromstad says. “If you don’t like Born Again, you are my enemy.”) Thematically, it follows Earnhardt through his final hours, digging into the racing icon’s mindset and motivations, his martyrdom and folk-hero status, and his obsession with reaching the finish line first, no matter the cost: “I’ve got a mission and a target / I’m glory-bound; you’ll never stop it,” Stromstad sings in “Eat My Smoke,” a chugging chunk of traditional metal. “Ain’t no room for second best!”

I Am The Intimidator has played two shows so far, both in its hometown. In between them, SPIN caught up with Stromstad to talk about elves and orcs, homemade cassette tapes, and dudes in sunglasses. Here’s that conversation, edited for space and clarity.

So where did you get the idea to make a heavy metal concept album about Dale Earnhardt?

I mean, I’ve got like two dozen things I want to do, as far as concept bands go. I’ve got a big ol’ file that houses everything I’m thinking about doing over the next several years. For this one, I just made like four or five songs in the course of a week and a half or something, and they seemed right for a Dale Earnhardt band, and then I probably got obsessed with it and was like, “I gotta do this, man. I need this to come out next year.” And then it snowballed from there, and now I really need to do my mail order because people actually want it.

But I’ve been thinking about doing a Dale Earnhardt band for maybe the past 10 years. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let’s be honest, not all ideas are unique. If I’ve thought of something, 1,000 other people have already thought the same thing.

OK, but what is unique is the execution of the idea. Why do you think I Am The Intimidator works so well?

I think the way that I presented it is interesting. Because the types of metal that I appreciate—like death metal and traditional metal and speed metal—they’re all rooted in some sort of fantasy setting, like wizards and dragons and shields and all that shit. And I like that, but sometimes I get tired of the fantasy setting, you know? Sometimes it can feel like there are too many elves and too many orcs. So I’m trying to figure out how you fuse metal with something else that I’m interested in.

(Credit: Jett Frisbie)

Are you a big NASCAR fan?

I’ve been into it off and on for years. I probably got into it at the grocery store looking at magazines and stuff and seeing all these pictures of dudes with sunglasses driving cars and shit. Any kid that sees dudes in sunglasses driving cars is gonna be curious.

So why Dale specifically? Why choose him as the subject of this album, and why do you think he continues to fascinate people 23 years after his death?

Dale’s a Jesus figure, man. He’s a godhead. I started reading some stuff about him like 10 or 15 years ago, and then I watched a couple of documentaries about him and was like, “Oh wow, now I understand why people worship this guy. It totally makes sense.” People respect the absolute shit out of that guy. And people are smart, man. They can tell if something’s full of shit or not full of shit, right? And I would like to think that this project is mostly not full of shit. It’s fun, it’s funny, but it really comes from a place of respect.

I like to think of it as modern folklore. However people consume information thousands of years from now—even if all the computers in the world have crashed and people are living in caves—I’m hoping they’ll know that Dale Earnhardt actually used to be a dragon slayer.

You mentioned needing to do mail order. Sounds like people are loving it?

Yeah, man. Normally if I make a tape, I’ll sell 10 or 15 copies of it, and this has been like 10 times that. I make all the tapes myself; I use a duplicator that I bought off Amazon, and I’ll record people’s names at the beginning of the tape, like “Hey, motherfucker, thanks for buying my tape!” It’s like your friend giving you a mixtape or something. So that’s cool, I think. But this was supposed to be, like, an afterthought, and now I’m booking a tour and I’ve made vinyl and I’m actually having to think about it and put effort into it!

There’s a part of me that kind of feels like Dale is guiding you from above.

That’s kind of how I feel too.