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Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt

Overview
Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

).
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Encyclopedia
Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .

Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 February 18, 2001) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 race car driver, best known for his involvement in stock car racing
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

 for NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

. The only child of Ralph Earnhardt, Earnhardt began his career in 1975 when he drove in the 1975 World 600
1975 World 600
The 1975 World 600 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that took place on May 25, 1975 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA.-Summary:...

 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 as part of the Winston Cup Series (later the Sprint Cup Series).

During the course of his career, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races (including one Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 victory in 1998
1998 Daytona 500
The 1998 Daytona 500 was run on February 15, 1998. It is memorable in that it marked Dale Earnhardt's only Daytona 500 victory after 19 previous attempts and many heartbreaking finishes. Not only was it Earnhardt's 20th 500 start, but also CBS's 20th consecutive live broadcast of the Daytona 500...

). Dale earned seven championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. His aggressive driving style led to controversy and earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

While driving in the 2001 Daytona 500
2001 Daytona 500
The 2001 Daytona 500, the 43rd running of the event, was held on February 18, 2001 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida over 200 laps on the 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. Bill Elliott won the pole. The race will be forever remembered for the final lap...

, Earnhardt died
Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was an American race car driver who gained fame driving stock cars for NASCAR and winning seven championships. He was involved in a car accident during the last lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001. He was taken to Halifax Medical Center,...

 of basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

 in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

 on February 18, 2001. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

.

Early life and personal life


Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Kannapolis is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina, northwest of Concord and northeast of Charlotte. The population was 42,625 at the 2010 census, which makes Kannapolis the 20th largest city in North Carolina...

, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy,Cathy, and Kaye.

When Earnhardt was 17, he married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry Dale, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee), who gave birth to a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Ralph Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, in 1974. Not long after his second son was born Dale and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter Taylor Nicole in 1988.

Early Winston Cup career


Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

 in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he
joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing
Rod Osterlund
Rod Osterlund was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner spanning from 1977–1981, and then again from 1989 - 1991. He earned his money off rental property in California.-Team history:...

, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 and Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway, formerly known as Bristol International Raceway and Bristol Raceway is a NASCAR short track venue located in Bristol, Tennessee. Constructed in 1960, it held its first NASCAR race on July 30, 1961...

, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year....

 honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

. With wins at Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track just outside Hampton, Georgia, twenty miles south of Atlanta. It is a quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000. It opened in 1960 as a standard oval. In 1994, 46 condominiums were built over the northeastern side of the track...

, Bristol, Nashville
Music City Motorplex
Fairgrounds Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racetrack located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. The track held NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup races from 1958 to 1984...

, Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway is an International Speedway Corporation-owned NASCAR stock car racing track located in Henry County, near Ridgeway, Virginia, just to the south of Martinsville. At in length, it is the shortest track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track was also one of the first paved...

, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the third driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since - Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

, Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki
Alan Dennis Kulwicki , nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

, Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, and Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Matthew Roy "Matt" Kenseth is an American stock car driver. Kenseth currently drives the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing...

.


In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress'
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore
Bud Moore (NASCAR owner)
Walter M. "Bud" Moore is a retired NASCAR car owner. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A decorated veteran of World War II, he described himself as "an old country mechanic who loved to make 'em run fast". His cars were number 15 and usually painted red and white and sponsored by...

 for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the #15 Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

 Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird
The Thunderbird , is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005...

 (Earnhardt's only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was an American race car driver from Ashland, Ohio. He competed in IndyCar racing before transferring to NASCAR's Winston Cup Series . Richmond was one of the first drivers to change from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars full-time, which has since become an industry trend...

. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, finishing eighth in the points standings.

Return to Richard Childress Racing


After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore's #15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is a 3/4-mile , D-shaped, asphalt race track located just outside Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County. It hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series...

, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.

The 1986 season saw Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR. He won five races and had ten Top 5 and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt successfully defended his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 489 points over Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
William Clyde "Bill" Elliott , also known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville or Million Dollar Bill, is a part-time driver and former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Elliott was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 15, 2007. He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup...

. In the process, Earnhardt set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. In the 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of "The Winston", a non-points event now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, formerly known as The Winston until 2004, then the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge from 2004 until 2007, is a race open to race winners from the previous season as well as the current season, plus the past ten event winners and past decade's Cup Series champions...

. During this race, Earnhardt was briefly forced into the infield grass, but kept control of his car and returned to the track without giving up his lead — a maneuver now referred to as the "Pass in the Grass" even though Earnhardt actually didn't pass and couldn't have passed anyone for position as he was in the lead at the time.
The 1988 season saw Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench
GM Goodwrench is an auto repair service for General Motors in Canada, and previously, the United States. In 2011, GM replaced Goodwrench in the US with separate Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC Certified Service brands.-Background:...

, which replaced Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler Jeans
Wrangler is a manufacturer of jeans and other clothing items. The brand is owned by the VF Corporation, who also own Lee, JanSport and The North Face, among others. Its headquarters is in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, with production plants in a variety of locations throughout the world...

. During this season Earnhardt garnered a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He was also called "Darth Vader
Darth Vader
Darth Vader is a central character in the Star Wars saga, appearing as one of the main antagonists in the original trilogy and as the main protagonist in the prequel trilogy....

" more than once because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck anyone he could not pass. He won three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

. The following year, Earnhardt won five times, but a late spin out at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

 arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace edged out Earnhardt for the championship.

1990s



The 1990 season started for Earnhardt with victories in the Busch Clash
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

 and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125s
Gatorade Duel
The Gatorade Duel is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500...

. Near the end of the Daytona 500, he had a four-second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is a NASCAR driver. He is best known for his win in the 1990 Daytona 500. He currently drives the #28 Chevrolet for Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series and the #75 Chevrolet/Dodge for his own team in the Sprint Cup Series.-Early years:Cope was born in San Diego, California...

. On the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal in the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished fifth. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall as a reminder of how close they'd come to winning the Daytona 500. Earnhardt went on to win nine races this season and won his fourth Winston Cup title, beating Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

 by 26 points. Earnhardt also became the first repeat winner of the annual all-star race, The Winston.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his fifth Winston Cup championship. He scored just four wins, but won the championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd
Ricky Rudd is a former American NASCAR driver. He is the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd. Rudd is known as the "Iron Man" of NASCAR; holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788...

. One of his wins that year came at North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway was a short track that held races in NASCAR's top three series from NASCAR's inception in 1949 until its closure in 1996...

, in a race where Harry Gant
Harry Gant
Harry Phil Gant is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the #33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.-Nicknames:...

 had a chance to set a single-season record by winning his fifth consecutive race, breaking a record held by Earnhardt. Late in the race Gant lost his brakes, which gave Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win and maintain his record.

Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE
- CHARLOTTE :CHARLOTTE is an American blues-based hard rock band that formed in Los Angeles, California in 1986. Currently, they are signed to indie label, Eonian Records, under which they released their debut cd, Medusa Groove, in 2010. Notable Charlotte songs include 'Siren', 'Little Devils',...

, in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

, ending a 13-race win streak by Ford teams. Earnhardt finished a career-low 12th in the points for the second time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since joining RCR. Earnhardt still made the trip to the annual Awards Banquet with Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 but did not have the best seat in the house. Wallace states he and Earnhardt had to sit on the backs of their chairs to see and Earnhardt said "This sucks, I could have gone hunting". At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine
Kirk Shelmerdine is a NASCAR driver and former championship-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt.-Crew chief:...

 left to become a driver. Andy Petree
Andy Petree
Andy Petree , is a long-time fixture in NASCAR. After racing for years at local short track , Andy became part owner of the #32 Busch Series car for Dale Jarrett. By the age of 28, Andy was already a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief on the Leo Jackson racing team...

 took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

, and dominated Speedweeks before finishing second to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt scored six wins en route to his sixth Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600
Coca-Cola 600
The Coca-Cola 600, formerly known as the World 600, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend...

 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400
Coke Zero 400
The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona is a 160 lap, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car race held annually, beginning in 1959, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida; the second major stock car event held at Daytona on the Sprint Cup circuit...

 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace, Jr. is a past NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, currently a broadcaster on ESPN, car owner in the Nationwide Series, and a co-host of NASCAR Angels.-Early racing career:...

 for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible – he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Lee Petty is a former NASCAR driver who raced in the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series...

. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring four wins, and after Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 was sidelined due to a near-deadly crash at Michigan (the two were neck-and-neck at the top of the points up until the crash), won title by over 400 points over Mark Martin
Mark Martin (NASCAR)
Mark Anthony Martin is an American stock car driver currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. As of 2012, Martin will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, moving on from successful organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. He has the second most wins in the NASCAR...

. Earnhardt sealed the deal at Rockingham by winning the race over Rick Mast
Rick Mast
Rick Mast is a former NASCAR driver. He competed in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series before retiring in 2002...

. Although Earnhardt continued to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would be his final NASCAR championship.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

. He won 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point
Infineon Raceway
Infineon Raceway, formerly Sears Point Raceway, is a road course and drag strip located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California, USA. The course is a complex series of twists and turns that go up and down the hills...

. He also won the Brickyard 400
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Brickyard 400 is an annual 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup points race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event, when first held in 1994, marked the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1916...

 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located in Speedway, Indiana in the United States, is the home of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400....

, a win he called the biggest of his career. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the championship to Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 – he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

 for a second time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July in the DieHard 500 at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan
Ernie Irvan
Virgil Earnest Irvan, more commonly known as Ernie Irvan is a former race driver in NASCAR. He is best remembered for his comeback after a serious head injury at Michigan International Speedway which earned him numerous awards and respect from his fellow drivers...

 lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall nearly head-on at almost 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had canceled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ended up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine
Geoffrey Eli Bodine is an American motorsport driver and bobsled builder. He is the oldest of the three Bodine brothers . Bodine currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina....

. Earnhardt did not win again in 1996, but still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

, Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 and Dale Jarrett
Dale Jarrett
Dale Arnold Jarrett is a former American race car driver and current sports commentator known for winning the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship...

. David Smith departed as crew chief of the #3 team and RCR at the end of the year for personal reasons, and was replaced by Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

.

In 1997, Earnhardt went winless for only the second time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during Speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of contention by a late crash which sent his car upside down on the backstretch. Earnhardt hit the low point of his year when he blacked out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington
Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is nicknamed the "Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" by many NASCAR fans and drivers and advertised as "A NASCAR Tradition"...

 in September, causing him to hit the wall. Afterward, he was disoriented and it took several laps before he could find his pit stall. When asked, Earnhardt complained of double vision which made it difficult to pit. Mike Dillon (Richard Childress's son-in-law) was brought in to relieve Earnhardt for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared to race the very next week, but the cause of the blackout and double vision was never determined. Despite no wins, the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings.

1998 saw Earnhardt win the Daytona 500
Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a -long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule....

 after not winning in the previous 19 attempts. Earnhardt began the season by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Earnhardt showed himself to be a contender early. Halfway through the race, however, it seemed that Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

, he was able to maintain it. Earnhardt made it to the to the caution checkered flag before Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is ours. We won it! We won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, and The Great American Race was his only victory that year. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway through the season, and Richard Childress
Richard Childress
Richard Childress is a former NASCAR driver and the current team owner of Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. As a business entrepreneur, Childress became one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina...

 decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's
Mike Skinner (NASCAR)
Mike Skinner is an American driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is the primary driver of the #60 Big Red Soda Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. He is the father of former NASCAR drivers Jamie and Dustin Skinner...

 crew chief Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin
Kevin Hamlin is an American racecar driver who has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series divisions.-General information:...

 and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans began discussing Earnhardt's age and speculating that with his son, Dale Jr. getting into racing, Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent had become limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which require a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But halfway through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Terrance Lee Labonte is a semi-retired NASCAR driver who occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup Series when called upon and is a two-time Winston Cup and IROC champion. He currently drives the #32 U.S. Chrome Ford for FAS Lane Racing. Labonte was introduced to the sport through his father, who had...

 got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between him and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't mean to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt finished 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgery he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year – winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in the final four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his only No Bull
Winston Million
The Winston Million was a cash prize award program in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, based on the Grand Slam concept. From 1985 to 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, then the title sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, offered an award of $1 million for any driver who won three of the four "crown...

 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was an American-made two-door coupe introduced for model year 1970, and manufactured over six generations through model year 2007. It was marketed as a personal-luxury coupe through most of its history, with the last model version being classified as a full-sized coupe...

 to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the chicane
Chicane
A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars to lower speeds.- Motor Racing :...

, a wreck with Chad Little
Chad Little
Chad Little is a former NASCAR driver. He holds a degree in marketing from Washington State University, and a law degree from Gonzaga University...

 while leading the spring race at Bristol, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Charlotte and Dover in a season dominated by the Ford Taurus in those tracks of Roush, Yates, and Penske, coupled with the extremely consistent Joe Gibb's #18 team with Bobby Labonte, denied Earnhardt the coveted eighth championship title.

Death


In the weeks before the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt elected not to attend the annual fan and media preview event, drawing vocal criticism from fellow driver Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a current television commentator, and a former NASCAR driver. He formerly hosted the NASCAR inspired talk show, “What’s the Deal?”, on SPEED. He is the former co-host, with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, of the SPEED's pre-race and post-race NASCAR shows NASCAR RaceDay and...

. On February 3 and 4, 2001, the first time in his career, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona, the event which kicks off Speedweeks at the track. His team, which also featured drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins, finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.

Ultimately, however, 2001 Speedweeks would be the first in many years that Earnhardt failed to win at least one race. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned event of Speedweeks, the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt finished second to Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

. Earnhardt was also denied victory in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in which he participated. Earnhardt had won every Twin 125 event he competed in during the 1990s, and was poised to win again in 2001 when Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

 pulled off a slingshot pass going down the backstretch, taking the victory away from Earnhardt.

On the morning of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt appeared confident and relaxed. When the race started, Earnhardt showed early promise, leading the race and maintaining a front-running position for most of the event.

A multi-car wreck late in the race eliminated several cars in spectacular fashion. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

, who had beaten Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout
Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, generally referred to as the Bud Shootout, is an annual invitation-only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a...

, found his car tumbling wildly down the backstretch. The race was red flagged to facilitate cleanup of the track, and when the race resumed, it was Earnhardt and DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 drivers Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 who were running up front. As the laps wound down, Waltrip was leading Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt.

On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's front right fender. Earnhardt's car wiggled but Earnhardt kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that "Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin's car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)".

Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. For reasons unknown, Earnhardt's car veered down. The left rear quarter of Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Marlin's front bumper.

Earnhardt’s car slid off the track's steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as though Earnhardt was going to avoid hitting the wall, the #3 car collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader
Ken Schrader
Kenneth Schrader is a second-generation race car driver. He currently races on local dirt and asphalt tracks around the country while driving part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series for his own Ken Schrader Racing. He also runs part time in the NASCAR Camping...

. Schrader's car hit Earnhardt's car just behind the passenger door, causing Earnhardt's car to snap, rapidly changing the angle of his car toward the wall. Earnhardt's car ran into the wall nose-first. Earnhardt's car hit at a critical angle at nearly 160 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The passenger window broke out of the car. The hood pins severed and the hood opened, slamming back against the windshield. As Earnhardt was nose first on the wall, Schrader was pushing Earnhardt's car along the wall.

Despite heavy damage to the car, to outside observers, the crash looked relatively less serious and hard compared to other NASCAR related crashes, especially the multi-car wreck that had occurred earlier in the race that resulted in Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart is an American auto racing driver and owner. Throughout his racing career, Stewart has won titles in Indy cars and stock cars as well as midget, sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars, giving him the recognition of "one of the finest racers of his generation."Stewart...

's car being destroyed.

While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt finished 11th. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt's car, only to immediately jump back and signal for emergency medical technician
Emergency medical technician
Emergency Medical Technician or Ambulance Technician are terms used in some countries to denote a healthcare provider of emergency medical services...

s while Earnhardt's son Earnhardt Jr. rushed to the crash scene. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 reporter Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko
Jeanne Zelasko is a journalist and sportscaster who took over as the pre-game host of Fox's MLB games in 2001 after the departure of Keith Olbermann until October 2008. She also covered pre-game for MLB 2K6, MLB 2K7, and MLB 2K8 alongside Steve Physioc...

 asked Schrader about Earnhardt's condition. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there," Schrader said. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 President Mike Helton
Mike Helton
Michael Helton is the president of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing . He replaced Bill France, Jr. in November 2000 as the company's third president. He was named the Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR in February 1999....

 announced Earnhardt's death: "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 Dale Earnhardt."

Aftermath


Earnhardt's death was the catalyst for a number of changes in NASCAR. Following his death, there was a police investigation, as well as a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation. Nearly every detail of the event was made public, from the finding of a torn seatbelt inside Earnhardt's car to graphic descriptions of the injuries the driver suffered at the moment of impact. There were rumors that he did not have his seat belt on properly, as he liked to wear it loose so he could move around and not feel too constrained. The allegations of seatbelt failure led Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson
Bill Simpson , is a retired American racecar driver, but is best known as a pioneer in the racing safety business with his company Simpson Performance Products. He left Simpson Performance in a controversy surrounding Dale Earnhardt's death and started Impact! Racing...

 to resign from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR competitor's machine.

NASCAR
NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr...

 also made the use of the HANS device
HANS device
The HANS device is a safety item compulsory in many car racing sports...

 mandatory in all cars following Earnhardt's death. Until that point, use of the HANS device was optional, at the discretion of the drivers or teams. Earnhardt had refused to wear the device, arguing it was uncomfortable and ineffective. He was not using a HANS device on the day he died of a Basilar skull fracture
Basilar skull fracture
A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the base of the skull, typically involving the temporal bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and/or ethmoid bone....

. The HANS device is designed to prevent such injuries.

Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry fans of Dale Earnhardt wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin
Sterling Marlin is a retired NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. He is the son of late NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin. He is married to Paula and has a daughter, Sutherlin, and a son, Steadman, who sometimes races in the Nationwide Series....

, blaming him for causing the crash. Quickly thereafter, Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Michael Curtis Waltrip is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in...

 and Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
* NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

, publicly and adamantly absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the #3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt's team was re-christened as the #29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme with white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress' second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Michael Harvick is an American stock car auto racing race car driver and car owner currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John's/Rheem/Okuma/Realtree Outdoors/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Impala...

 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special hats bearing the #3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was replaced by the wearing of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms.

Fans took it upon themselves to begin honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every NASCAR Cup race, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox
NASCAR on Fox is the Emmy-winning branding used for Fox Sports's broadcasts of NASCAR races airing on the Fox network since 2001. The production has been in high-definition since 2005.-Background:...

 and NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC
NASCAR on NBC, identified by its on-air logo as NBC NASCAR, was a series of NASCAR races that aired on the network from 2001-2006. Prior to the contract that gave NBC broadcast rights the network aired races as early as the 1964 World 600...

 went silent for each third lap from Rockingham through to the next Daytona 500 in honor of Earnhardt (and, after 9/11
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

, in remembrance of those who perished that day). For the first three weeks after Earnhardt's death, on-track incidents brought out the caution flag on lap three. Three weeks after Earnhardt's death, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Jeffery Michael "Jeff" Gordon is a professional NASCAR driver. He is the driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala. He is a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is third on the all-time wins list, with 85 career wins, and has the...

 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt won over Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte
Robert Alan "Bobby" Labonte is an American race car driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He currently drives the #47 Kroger/Clorox/Kimberly-Clark/Kingsford/Reese Towpower Hitches Toyota Camry for JTG Daugherty Racing. He currently resides in Trinity, North Carolina. He is married to his wife...

 at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers
Danny "Chocolate" Myers is an American stock car racing personality. A long-time staffer for Richard Childress Racing, he was the fueler on six of the team's NASCAR championships and is the current curator of the team's museum. He is a radio host on Sirius Satellite Radio...

, crying after the victory, Harvick's tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver's window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy
Mike Joy
Mike Joy is an American TV sports announcer, who currently serves as the lap-by-lap voice of FOX Sports' NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. His color analysts are Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Joy has broadcast more than 30 Daytona 500s, NASCAR's biggest event...

, Larry McReynolds
Larry McReynolds
Lawrence Joseph McReynolds III is a former NASCAR crew chief and currently serves as a racing analyst on Fox Sports, TNT and a columnist on Foxsports.com. He currently lives in Mooresville, North Carolina...

, and Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Lee Waltrip is a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion , 3-time runner-up , winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of the prestigeous Coca-Cola 600 ,...

, concluding with "Gordon got loose, it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

 for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

.

Other notable events include:
  • Steve Park
    Steve Park (NASCAR)
    Stephen Park is a professional race car driver. Park is currently racing in the #35 Waste Management Recycle America Monte Carlo in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East....

    , driver of the #1 DEI Pennzoil
    Pennzoil
    Pennzoil is an American oil company founded in Los Angeles, California in 1913. In 1955, it was acquired by Oil City, Pennsylvania company South Penn Oil, a former branch of Standard Oil. In 1963, South Penn Oil merged with Zapata Petroleum; the merged company took the Pennzoil name. During the...

     Chevy Monte Carlo won the very next NASCAR Winston Cup race: The DuraLube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC held on February 26, 2001.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the next Cup race at Daytona: the Pepsi 400 on July 7, 2001. This led to an emotional celebration on the infield with driver Michael Waltrip, whose victory at the Daytona 500 was vastly overshadowed.
  • Las Vegas, the 3rd race of the 2001 season, was noted for the fact that Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, took over Earnhardt's slot in the No Bull 5 million dollar eligibility for this race since Earnhardt had qualified for the No Bull 5 prize after his final victory in the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. This is the only time that a switch of driver for the No Bull 5 has ever happened.
  • Earnhardt was credited with finishing 57th in the final point standings in 2001, despite running one race. He also won the 2001 Most Popular Driver award at the end of the year in the awards' ceremony banquet. Bill Elliott bowed out of the running and encouraged the same fans that had put him up for the prestigious award 16 times to vote for the Man in Black.
  • Earnhardt Jr. later went on to win the 2004 Daytona 500, three years after his father's death and six years to the day after his father won the 1998 Daytona 500. He also won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega that same year.
  • As of 2010, Earnhardt is interred in a concrete memorial on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
  • In 2010, Dale Earnhardt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

    .
  • Two world class roller coasters have been named after Earnhardt; the most popular being Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator (roller coaster)
    Intimidator is a steel roller coaster at the Carowinds amusement park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located at the entrance of the theme park. The Intimidator is the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in the...

     at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte, North Carolina
    Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

    , the other being Intimidator 305 located at Kings Dominion in Virginia
    Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    .




#3 Car



Earnhardt drove the #3 car for most of his career, spanning the early 1980s until his death in 2001. Although he had other sponsors during his career, his #3 is associated in fans' minds with his last sponsor, GM Goodwrench, and his last color scheme — a predominantly black car with bold red and silver trim. The black and red #3 continues to be one of the most famous logos in North American motor racing.

A common misconception is that Richard Childress Racing "owns the rights" to the #3 in NASCAR competition(fueled by the fact that Kevin Harvick's car has a little #3 as an homage to Earnhardt), but in fact no team owns the rights to this or any other number: However, according to established NASCAR procedures, RCR would have priority over other teams if and when the time came to reuse the number. RCR owns the stylized #3 logos used during Earnhardt's lifetime; however these rights may not prevent a future racing team from using a different #3 design. (Also, a new #3 team would most likely, in any case, need to create logos which fit with their sponsor's logos.)

In 2004, ESPN
ESPN
Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, commonly known as ESPN, is an American global cable television network focusing on sports-related programming including live and pre-taped event telecasts, sports talk shows, and other original programming....

 released a made-for-TV movie entitled 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story
3: The Dale Earnhardt Story
3: The Dale Earnhardt Story is a 2004 television movie produced by ESPN documenting the life of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, his poor upbringing in Kannapolis, North Carolina, his rise to dominance in NASCAR, his relationship with his son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and his death in the 2001 Daytona 500...

which used a new (but similarly colored) #3 logo. The movie was a sympathetic portrayal of Earnhardt's life, but the producers were sued for using the #3 logo. In December 2006, the ESPN lawsuit was settled, but details were not released to the public.

It is generally believed that current NASCAR owners have agreed never to use the #3 in Sprint Cup competition again, although this is not official NASCAR policy. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made two special appearances in 2002 in a #3 Busch Series car: these appearances were at the track where his father died (Daytona
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am and Motocross...

) and the track where his father made his first Winston Cup start (Charlotte
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a motorsports complex located in Concord, North Carolina, United States 13 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. The complex features a quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing including the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and the Sprint All-Star Race...

). Earnhardt Jr. won the first of those two races, which was the season-opening event at Daytona. He also raced a #3 sponsored by Wrangler on July 2, 2010 for Richard Childress Racing at Daytona. In a green-white- checker finish he outran Joey Logano to win his second race in the 3.

Otherwise, the #3 was missing from the national touring series until September 5, 2009, when Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon is an American stock car racing driver. He is the son of former driver and RCR general manager Mike Dillon and grandson of Richard Childress....

, the 19-year-old grandson of Richard Childress debuted an RCR-owned #3 truck in the Camping World Truck Series. Austin Dillon and his younger brother Ty Dillon have been driving #3's in various lower level competitions for several years, including the Camping World East Series.

Richard Childress Racing entered the number 3 in the Daytona Truck race on 13 February 2010 painted identically to when Earnhardt drove it, but with Bass Pro Shops as a sponsor. It was driven by Austin Dillon. Oddly, the number 3 was involved in a wreck almost identical to that which took the life of Earnhardt: being spun out, colliding with another vehicle and being turned into the outside wall in turn number four.

Only the former International Race of Champions
International Race of Champions
International Race of Champions, better known as IROC, was a North American auto racing competition, promoted as an equivalent of an American All-Star Game or The Masters...

 actually retired the #3, which they did in a rule change effective in 2004. Until the series folded in 2007, anyone wishing to use the #3 again had to use #03 instead.

In 2009, Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw
Samuel Timothy "Tim" McGraw is an American country singer and actor. Many of McGraw's albums and singles have topped the country music charts with total album sales in excess of 40 million units in the US, making him the eighth best-selling artist, and the third best-selling country singer, in the...

 released the song "Southern Voice
Southern Voice (song)
"Southern Voice" is a song written by Bob DiPiero and Tom Douglas, and recorded by American country music singer Tim McGraw. It is the title track to his tenth studio album, 2009's Southern Voice, and the second single release from it. The song debuted at #49 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs...

;" the song makes reference to Earnhardt and the number 3 in the line "Number Three drove it."

In the movie Zombieland
Zombieland
Zombieland is a 2009 American zombie comedy film directed by Ruben Fleischer from a screenplay written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The film stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin as survivors of a zombie apocalypse...

, Woody Harrelson's character, Tallahasee, draws a 3 on his car doors. He does this to pay homage to Earnhardt.

The Christian metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada (band)
The Devil Wears Prada is an American metalcore band from Dayton, Ohio. Formed in 2005, they are currently signed to Warner Music Group...

 have a song titled "Number Three, Never Forget" in honor of Dale Earnhardt.

Legacy


Earnhardt was a very polarizing figure in NASCAR. He was both loved and hated in the sport, yet despite his numerous detractors, Earnhardt remained one of the sport's most popular drivers. His death drew a considerable amount of reaction from the nation, NASCAR, and his fans.

Earnhardt kept his personal life relatively private. He enjoyed the company of his family, being outdoors, hunting and fishing, and actively working on his farm in Mooresville. In contrast with his image as a hardnosed competitor on the track, off the track he was known to his friends as someone who was charitable and generous, but usually kept that side of himself hidden from the rest of the world.

Earnhardt has a street in his hometown of Kannapolis named after him. Dale Earnhardt Boulevard (originally Earnhardt Road) is marked as Exit 60 off Interstate 85
Interstate 85
Interstate 85 is a major interstate highway in the Southeastern United States. Its current southern terminus is at an interchange with Interstate 65 in Montgomery, Alabama; its northern terminus interchanges with Interstate 95 in Petersburg, Virginia, near Richmond...

, northeast of Charlotte
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...

. Dale Earnhardt Drive is also the start of The Dale Journey Trail, a self-guided driving tour of landmarks in the lives of Dale and his family. A road between Kannapolis and Mooresville
Mooresville, North Carolina
Mooresville is a large suburban town in southern Iredell County, North Carolina, USA. It is in the Metrolina metro area. The population was 32,133 at the 2010 United States Census...

, near the headquarters of DEI, formerly NC 136, was switched with State Highway 3
North Carolina State Highway 3
North Carolina Highway 3 is a North Carolina state highway approximately in length. It is numbered after Dale Earnhardt, the late NASCAR legend, who was driving the #3 car when he died at the 2001 Daytona 500. This state highway runs from Kannapolis, Earnhardt's birthplace, to downtown...

 which was in Currituck County by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In addition, Exit 73 off Interstate 35W
Interstate 35W (Texas)
Interstate 35W , an Interstate Highway, is the western half of Interstate 35 where it splits to serve different cities in Texas. I-35 splits into two branch routes, I-35W and I-35E at Hillsboro. I-35W runs north for , carrying its own separate sequence of exit numbers. It runs through Fort Worth...

, one of the entrances to Texas Motor Speedway
Texas Motor Speedway
Texas Motor Speedway is a speedway located in the northernmost portion of the U.S. city of Fort Worth, Texas – the portion located in Denton County, Texas....

, is named "Dale Earnhardt Way".

In 2000, shortly before his death, Earnhardt became a part-owner of the minor league baseball team in Kannapolis, and the team was renamed the Kannapolis Intimidators
Kannapolis Intimidators
The Kannapolis Intimidators are a minor league baseball team in Kannapolis, North Carolina. The team is a Class Low-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and has played in the South Atlantic League under various names and team affiliations since its inception in 1995.-Team history:The Intimidators...

 shortly thereafter. After his death, the team retired the jersey number 3 in Earnhardt's honor, and a "3" flag flies beyond the left field wall during every game.

Recording artist Jason Swain's song "Victory Lane" was among many songs released in tribute to Earnhardt posthumously.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves are a professional baseball club based in Atlanta, Georgia. The Braves are a member of the Eastern Division of Major League Baseball's National League. The Braves have played in Turner Field since 1997....

 assistant coach Ned Yost
Ned Yost
Edgar Frederick "Ned" Yost III is a former Major League Baseball catcher and current manager of the Kansas City Royals. He is the former manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.-Playing career:...

 was a friend of Earnhardt, and Richard Childress. When Yost was named Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers are a professional baseball team based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, currently playing in the Central Division of Major League Baseball's National League...

 manager, he changed jersey numbers, from #5 to #3 in Earnhardt's honor. (#3 is retired by the Braves in honor of outfielder Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy
Dale Bryan Murphy is a former Major League Baseball outfielder and first baseman. During an 18-year baseball career, 1976–1993, he played for three different teams, but is noted for his time with the Atlanta Braves...

, so Yost could not make the change while in Atlanta.) When Yost was named Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are a Major League Baseball team based in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals are a member of the Central Division of Major League Baseball's American League. From 1973 to the present, the Royals have played in Kauffman Stadium...

 assistant coach, he wore #2 for the 2010 season, even when he was named manager in May 2010, but for the 2011 season, he switched back to #3.

Between the 2004 and 2005 JGTC (subsequently renamed Super GT
Super GT
The Super GT series, formerly known as the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship or JGTC , is a grand touring car race series promoted by the GT-Association...

 from 2005) season, Hasemi Sport
Masahiro Hasemi
is a former racing driver and team owner from Japan. He started racing motocross when he was 15 years old. In 1964 he signed to drive for Nissan. After establishing himself in saloon car and GT races in Japan, he participated in his only Formula One race at the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix for Kojima...

 competed in the series with a sole black G'Zox sponsored Nissan 350Z
Nissan 350Z
The Nissan 350Z is a two seat sports car that was manufactured by Nissan from 2002 to 2009 and marks the fifth generation of Nissan's Z-car line. The 350Z entered production in late 2002 and was sold and marketed as a 2003 model. The first year there was only a coupe, as the roadster did not debut...

 with the same number and letterset as Earnhardt on the roof.

A 2005 novel, St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb
Sharyn McCrumb
Sharyn McCrumb is an American writer whose books celebrate the history and folklore of Appalachia. McCrumb is the winner of numerous literary awards, and the author of the Elizabeth McPherson series, the Ballad series, and the St...

 explores the world of NASCAR as it follows several racing fans on a tribute tour of tracks in memory of Earnhardt.

During the April 29, 2006 – May 1, 2006 NASCAR weekend races at Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is a motorsports complex located north of Talladega, Alabama, United States. It is located on the former Anniston Air Force Base just outside the small city of Lincoln. It was constructed by International Speedway Corporation, a business controlled by the France Family, in...

, the Dale Earnhardt Inc cars competed in identical special black paint schemes on Dale Earnhardt Day, held annually on his birthday, April 29. Martin Truex Jr won the Aaron's 312 in the black car, painted to reflect Earnhardt's Intimidating Black #3 NASCAR Busch Grand National series car. In the Nextel Cup race on May 1, #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr., #1 Martin Truex Jr., and #15 Paul Menard competed in cars with the same type of paint scheme.

On June 18, 2006 at Michigan for the 3M Performance 400 Dale Earnhardt Jr ran a special vintage Budweiser
Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch)
Budweiser is a 5.0% abv American-style lager introduced in 1876 by Adolphus Busch and one of the highest selling beers in the United States. It is made with up to 30% rice in addition to hops and barley malt. Budweiser is produced in various breweries located around the world...

 car to honor his father and his grandfather Ralph Earnhardt. He finished 3rd after rain caused the race to be cut short. The car was painted to resemble Ralph's 1956 dirt cars, and carried 1956-era Budweiser logos to complete the throwback look.

In the summer of 2007, Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 (DEI) with the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, announced it will fund an annual undergraduate scholarship at Clemson University
Clemson University
Clemson University is an American public, coeducational, land-grant, sea-grant, research university located in Clemson, South Carolina, United States....

 in Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson is a college town located in Pickens County in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The population was 11,939 at the 2000 census and center of an urban cluster with a total population of 42,199...

 for students interested in motorsports and automotive engineering. Scholarship winners are also eligible to work at DEI in internships. The first winner was William Bostic, a senior at Clemson majoring in mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering is a discipline of engineering that applies the principles of physics and materials science for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. It is the branch of engineering that involves the production and usage of heat and mechanical power for the...

.

"Earnhardt Tower", a seating section at Daytona International Speedway, the track where Earnhardt was killed, was named in his honor.

In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the first Daytona 500 race, DEI
Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

 and RCR
Richard Childress Racing
RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...

 teamed up to make a special COT
Car of Tomorrow
The Car of Tomorrow, sometimes called CoT or "Car of Today", is the car style for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Larger and boxier than the design it replaced, the Car of Tomorrow is safer, costs less to maintain, and was intended to make for closer competition.The car was introduced in the 2007 Cup...

 sporting Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 paint scheme to honor the tenth anniversary of his Daytona 500 victory. In a tribute to all previous Daytona 500 winners, the winning drivers appeared in a lineup on stage, in chronological order. The redesigned #3 car stood in the infield, in the approximate position Earnhardt would have taken in the processional. The throwback car featured the authentic 1998-era design on a current-era car, a concept similar to modern throwback jerseys in other sports. The car was later sold in 1:64 and 1:24 scale models.

The Intimidator 305
Intimidator 305
Intimidator 305 is a steel roller coaster designed and built by Intamin located at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia in the United States. Standing at tall and reaching speeds of , it is the tallest, fastest roller coaster at Kings Dominion...

 roller coaster has been up and running since April 2010 at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia
Doswell, Virginia
Doswell is an unincorporated community in Hanover County in the Central Region of the U.S. state of Virginia. Originally called Hanover Junction, it was located on the Virginia Central Railroad, which later became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad at a crossing of the Richmond,...

. Named after Earnhardt, the ride's trains will be modeled after Dale Earnhardt's black-and-red Chevrolet.
Another Intimidator was built at Carowinds, in Charlotte, NC.

During the third lap of the 2011 Daytona 500, the commentators on FOX fell silent while fans each raised three fingers in a similar fashion to the tributes throughout 2001.

Awards


  • Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1994
  • Earnhardt was named among NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers
    NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers
    NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers is a list of NASCAR drivers.In 1998, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, NASCAR gathered a panel to select "The 50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers of All Time." It was inspired in part by the NBA's decision to select the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History on its 50th...

     in 1998
  • Earnhardt was posthumously named NASCAR's Most Popular Driver in 2001, the only time he received the award.
  • He was posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
    Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
    The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America is a Hall of Fame and museum for American motorsports legends. It was originally located in Novi, Michigan and it moved to the Detroit Science Center in 2009.-Museum:...

     in 2002.
  • He was inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
    International Motorsports Hall of Fame
    The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is a Hall of Fame dedicated to enshrining those who have contributed the most to auto racing either as a driver, owner, developer or engineer...

     in 2006.
  • Earnhardt was named Number 1 among ESPN's NASCAR's 20 Greatest Drivers in 2007 in front of Richard Petty.
  • Inducted in the Inaugural Induction Class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame
    NASCAR Hall of Fame
    The NASCAR Hall of Fame honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs and owners, and other major contributors to competition within the sanctioning body. NASCAR committed itself to building a Hall of Fame and on March 6, 2006, the city of Charlotte,...

     on May 23, 2010.

In music

  • In 1997, Earnhardt appeared as a special guest with his close friends, the country duo Brooks and Dunn, in the video for Brooks and Dunn's hit song, "Honky Tonk Truth". The video was a play on Earnhardt's resemblance to Kix Brooks, with the two switching roles throughout the video.
  • In 2004, Keith Bryant released the album Ridin' with the Legend, with the title track being a tribute to Earnhardt called "The Last Ride", based on David Allan Coe's "The Ride (The Ghost of Hank Williams)"
  • Charlie Daniels wrote and performed a song called "The Intimidator" about Earnhardt.
  • John Boy and Billy presented a song set to the music of "Uneasy Rider" by the Charlie Daniels Band called "The Bristol Song", which recounts the interactions between Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt at the August 1995 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
  • Country singer Travis Tritt plays a guitar with Earnhardt's image airbrushed onto the front during concerts.
  • Troy Gentry, of the country duo Montgomery Gentry, also had a guitar with the #3 and a picture of Earnhardt on its face, which was played during their Crossroads television special with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Similarly, Gentry's bandmate Eddie Montgomery can be seen with Earnhardt's #3 embroidered onto both sleeves of his trademark black trenchcoat in the video for the song "Speed".
  • The Bled's first album, Pass the Flask, includes a song called "You Know Who's Seatbelt", which is loosely based on Earnhardt's story. The song was originally titled "Dale Earnhardt's Seatbelt", but was subsequently changed for legal reasons. It is still labeled as such in the liner notes.
  • Jason Aldean says "Carolina was a black car, A big white number three." in the song Texas was you.
  • Billy Ray Cyrus's song "The Man" is a tribute to Earnhardt. He also mentions Earnhardt in the song "As Country As Country Can Be" near the start of the track, saying "NASCAR and Earnhardt, Still miss number three".
  • The Bowling For Soup song "99 Biker Friends" has the lyrics "your tiny pickup truck in the driveway, with the sticker on the window, 'rest in peace #3'" near the start of the track.
  • Cledus T. Judd's comedy spoof song, "I Love NASCAR", styled after Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar", features a verse by Toby Keith singing, "I love NASCAR, it's my kind of race. Just to see Big E back on the track, Would put a smile on every face. No-one drove a car quite like Earnhardt..."
  • There was a special single of Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me" with sound bytes from the day of the race and later interviews called the "Dale Earnhardt Tribute"
  • Similarly, there was a special single of Garth Brook's "The Dance," with sound bytes from the day of the race and later interviews, also called the "Dale Earnhardt Tribute"
  • John Hiatt devotes a verse to Earnhardt in "The Tiki Bar is Open", singing "Well his name was Mr. Dale Earnhardt / And he drove the black number 3 / The king is gone, but he'll not be forgotten / Nor his like will we ever see"
  • Country singer Chris Cagle mentions Earnhardt in his hit song "Chicks Dig It" (2nd Verse)
  • Country singer Trace Adkins speaks of Earnhardt in his song "Rough and Ready" on the Comin' on Strong album.
  • Southern metal band Weedeater also paid a tribute to Earnhardt with the song "#3" from the album Sixteen Tons which features the band playing over television broadcasts of Earnhardt's races.
  • Diamond Rio's song "One More Day" was remade with tidbits of the announcement of his death
  • Jimmy Buffett dedicated the song "Take Another Road" to Earnhardt during a concert at the Charlotte Coliseum, two days after his death.
  • Dave Grohl owns a Gibson Les Paul-style guitar made from NASCAR car parts which Earnhardt gave him.
  • In Tim McGraw's song "Southern Voice", Tim sings "Number 3 Drove It."
  • In the song "New 88" by Ray Steele he mentioned Dale Earnhardt at the beginning of the song and then goes into talk about Jr.
  • Country music singer Blake Shelton references Dale Earnhardt in the song "Kiss my Country Ass" with the line "Earnhardt sticker behind my head and my woman by my side"
  • Singer/Songwriter, Kacey Jones released her CD "Til Earnhardt Wins Cup #8" in September 2000.
  • NBA player Ron Artest said in his song "Champion, "I'm Dale Earnhardt"
  • Jay-z made a reference to Earnhardt in a song called lift off with Kanye West and Beyonce. He says " When you Earnhart as me eventually you hit a big wall."
  • Rapper Cam'ron mentions Dale in his song halftime. He says,"Crashburn, rest in peace, Dale Earnhardt."
  • Rapper Kendrick Lamar mentions Dale in his song Growing Apart. He says,"I’m off track like Dale Earnhardt."
  • Rapper Jay-z mentions Dale in his song Addicted to the game. He says,"But like Dale Earnhardt the game is racing through my veins and I crash every time, but like I never hit the wall."
  • Rapper Ed O.G. mentions Dale in his song Questions. He says,"You can't get it, got to earn hard Or hit the wall like Dale Earnhardt.
  • Rapper Celph Titled mentions Dale in the song The deal maker. He says,"Cause I appear on more tracks than Dale Earnhardt’s ghost."
  • Immortal Technique – The Getaway mentions Dale. He says,"I kill kids on tracks like Dale Earnhardt."

See also


  • Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
    Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
    Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was a NASCAR-related organization located in Mooresville, North Carolina, United States working to continue the legacy of Dale Earnhardt. It was originally formed in 1980 by seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who died in a crash on the closing lap of the 2001...

  • Teresa Earnhardt
    Teresa Earnhardt
    Teresa Earnhardt was the third wife and is the widow of Dale Earnhardt. She is the biological mother of Taylor Nicole Earnhardt and she is the stepmother of Kerry Earnhardt, Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Teresa is currently the president and Co. Chief Executive Officer of...

    , wife
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
    Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
    * NOTE: References to "Earnhardt", "he", and "him" refer to the subject of this article, unless otherwise specified. References to his father will include "Sr."...

    , son
  • Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson
  • Kerry Earnhardt, son
  • Richard Childress Racing
    Richard Childress Racing
    RCR Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Richard Childress Racing, is a NASCAR team based in Welcome, North Carolina, and is owned and operated by former driver Richard Childress...


External links