Dale Earnhardt

Full Name:
Dale Ralph Earnhardt
Born:
29th April 1951
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Died:
18th February 2001 (Aged 49)
Daytona Beach, Florida, Daytona 500
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The greatest stock car driver of his generation, Dale Earnhardt’s death sent shock waves through the sport just as had that of Ayrton Senna seven years earlier. His illustrious career included 76 victories and seven championship titles but NASCAR’s larger-than-life superstar was lost in what had seemed an innocuous accident during the closing stages of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Originally nicknamed "Ironhead", he later became known as "the Intimidator" or "the Man in Black". Earnhardt was a quiet and personable man out of the car who took no prisoners on the racetrack. Those rough-arm tactics originally made him unpopular with race fans but this great character and formidable racer soon won over the doubters.

By the time of his death and despite not changing his tactics – witness the boos as he punted Terry Labonte out of the lead at Bristol in 1999 – Dale Earnhardt was the sport’s most revered star.

Family background and NASCAR debut

Racing was always in Dale’s blood as the son of 1956 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Champion Ralph Earnhardt. Although his father originally did not want Dale to race, the youngster was not to be dissuaded and he dropped out of school to pursue his chosen career. Like his father, Dale Earnhardt initially raced on North Carolina’s short tracks before graduating to NASCAR in 1975.

An occasional driver for the next few years, he was hired by Rodney Osterlund for a full campaign in 1979. Four pole positions, a maiden victory at Bristol and seventh in the year-end standings was an impressive haul, especially as he was sidelined for four races after breaking both collarbones when his Chevrolet Monte Carlo crashed out of the lead at Pocono. Earnhardt was named as 1979 Rookie of the Year as a consequence.

NASCAR champion for the first time

He won five times during 1980 and led the NASCAR Winston Cup all year to become the first driver to win the rookie and Cup titles in successive seasons. But the team was sold in the middle of 1981 and Earnhardt ended his year with Richard Childress Racing. He spent the next two seasons with Bud Moore’s Wrangler Jeans Ford Thunderbird with which he won three times.

The return to Richard Childress Racing

However, it was with his return to Childress that Earnhardt became a legend. He rejoined in 1984 and he added another six NASCAR titles during the next 17 years to equal Richard Petty’s record tally. His last championship win was in 1994 and he subsequently finished as runner-up in 1995 and 2000.

Earnhardt won the Winston Cup for a second time in 1986 to earn Childress his first such success as a car owner. Earnhardt easily defended that title by winning 11 times before the yellow and blue colours of Wrangler were replaced by the now famous black and silver GM Goodwrench sponsorship in 1988.

A top-three finisher for the next two seasons, "The Man in Black" narrowly beat Mark Martin to the 1990 Winston Cup and then dominated the 1991 championship despite only winning four times. Only 12th in the 1992 standings, Earnhardt bounced back with championships six and seven in 1993 and 1994.

1995 included his only victory on a road course (Sears Point) and in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis but Earnhardt was narrowly denied an eighth title by Jeff Gordon. He survived a 200mph head-on accident and subsequent barrel-roll during the 1996 summer race at Talladega in which Earnhardt broke a collarbone, shoulder and back. Despite his injuries, he was racing again just a week later.

Earnhardt had won on all of the championship’s classic tracks such as Daytona, Charlotte (including three Coca-Cola 600s), Talladega and Darlington. But one race victory continued to elude him – the Daytona 500 itself. He had come so close – losing on the last lap in 1990 after a puncture and 1993 when Dale Jarrett passed him.

Victory in the Daytona 500 at last

In the hunt again in 1997, Earnhardt flipped on the backstretch with five laps to go. He was in the ambulance and about to go for a checkup when he realised that his car still had four wheels on it and resumed the race to finish 31st. It was finally his year in 1998 when Earnhardt won the race at the 20th attempt after holding off Bobby Labonte’s late challenge. That also ended a run of 59 races without a win.

The event would claim his life just three years later. He crashed when disputing third position late in the 2001 Daytona 500 in what seemed a "normal" NASCAR wreck. But Earnhardt suffered fatal head injuries when he hit the wall at 140mph. He was transferred to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The tributes reigned in including NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr mourning the loss of stock car racing’s "greatest driver ever."

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
2001 Winston Cup 57th 132
2000 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
2 0 2 2 2nd 4865
2000 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1999 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
3 0 3 3 7th 4492
1999 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1998 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
1 0 1 1 8th 3928
1997 Winston Cup 5th 4216
1996 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
2 0 2 2 4th 4327
1995 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
5 0 5 5 2nd 4580
1995 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1994 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
4 0 4 4 1st 4694
1993 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
6 1 6 6 1st 4526
1992 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
1 0 1 1 12th 3574
1991 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
4 0 4 4 1st 4287
1990 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1990 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
9 0 9 9 1st 4430
1989 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
5 0 5 5 2nd 4164
1988 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
3 0 3 3 3rd 4256
1987 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
11 0 11 11 1st 4696
1986 Winston Cup
Richard Childress Racing
5 0 5 5 1st 4468
1985 Winston Cup Grand National
Richard Childress Racing
4 0 4 4 8th 3561
1984 Winston Cup Grand National
Richard Childress Racing
2 0 2 2 4th 4265
1983 Winston Cup Grand National
Bud Moore
2 0 2 2 8th 3732
1982 Winston Cup Grand National
Bud Moore
1 0 1 1 12th 3402
1981 Winston Cup Grand National 7th 3978
1980 Winston Cup Grand National
Rodney Osterlund
5 0 5 5 1st 4661
1979 Winston Cup Grand National
Rodney Osterlund
1 0 1 1 7th 3749
1978 Winston Cup Grand National 41st 660
1977 Winston Cup Grand National 130th 49
1976 Winston Cup Grand National 83rd 176
1975 Winston Cup Grand National 106th 97