Saturday, April 29, 2017

Remembering A Legend - "The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt

April 29, 1951 – February 18, 2001
Dale Earnhardt
(Photo: twm1340 via photopin cc)
Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, USA.
He was the son of Ralph Lee 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. Dale is the father of former NASCAR driver Kerry Earnhardt and current NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger (#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979.


In 1979 he joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars including Earnhardt, Harry Gant and Terry Labonte. In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol, 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 honors.
(Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway via photopin cc)
In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash. With wins at Atlanta, Bristol, Nashville, Martinsville, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the first and 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. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since – Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth.

Considered one of the best NASCAR drivers of all time, Earnhardt won a total of 76 races over the course of his career, including one Daytona 500 victory in 1998. He earned 7 NASCAR Winston Cup Championships, which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty. His aggressive driving style earned him the nickname "The Intimidator".

At the 2001 Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, Earnhardt started in 7th place. He was involved in an accident during the final lap, in which Earnhardt's car was turned from behind after contacting the car driven by Sterling Marlin into the outside wall nose-first, into the path of Ken Schrader's car. Earnhardt's team, DEI drivers, Michael Waltrip won the race, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in second place. Earnhardt, Sr. and Schrader slid off the track's asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt Sr. was taken to Halifax Medical Center after he was extricated from his car, and was pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m. Hours later, Mike Helton, president of NASCAR announced to the officials, drivers and fans that Earnhardt had died from the accident. He was 49 years old. An autopsy concluded that Earnhardt died instantly of blunt force trauma to the head. Earnhardt's funeral was held on February 22, 2001, at the Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

After Earnhardt's death, a police investigation and a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation commenced; nearly every detail of the crash was made public. The allegations of seatbelt failure resulted in Bill Simpson's resignation from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt's car and nearly every other NASCAR driver's car.

The effect that Earnhardt's death had on motorsports and the media frenzy that followed were massive. Auto racing had not experienced a death of this magnitude since that of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994. Senna was regarded as highly in Formula One as Earnhardt was in NASCAR. Earnhardt won the NASCAR Talladega race in 1994 on the day that Senna was killed, and in victory lane he expressed his sorrow for the Senna family.

NASCAR implemented rigorous safety improvements, such as making the HANS device mandatory. Earnhardt had refused to wear it because he found it restrictive and uncomfortable. Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt's death. Some angry Earnhardt fans sent hate mail and death threats to Sterling Marlin and his relatives. In response, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 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 No. 3, placed a moratorium on using it, the number returned for the 2014 season, driven by Childress's grandson Austin Dillon.

Immediately after Earnhardt's death, his team was re-christened as the No. 29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look 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 was named as Earnhardt's replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt's death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special pennants bearing the No. 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 soon replaced by the previous GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms. Harvick's car always displayed the Earnhardt stylized number 3 on the "B" posts above the number 29, until the end of 2013, when Harvick departed for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Fans began honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every race, a black screen of number 3 in the beginning of NASCAR Thunder 2002 before the EA Sports logo, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox and NASCAR on NBC went silent for each third lap from Rockingham to the following year's race there in honor of Earnhardt. On-track incidents brought out the caution flag on the third lap. 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 by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt had won over Bobby Labonte at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt's longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers, 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, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip, concluding with "Just like a year ago but he is gonna get him though...Gordon got loose... it's Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away. Harvick would win another race at Chicagoland en route to a ninth place finish in the final points, and won Rookie of the Year honors.

Earnhardt's team, DEI, won five races in the regular 2001 season, with Steve Park winning the Rockingham race one week after Earnhardt's death. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip finished 1-2 in the series' return to Daytona that July in the Pepsi 400, the reverse of their Daytona 500 finish. Earnhardt, Jr. also won the fall races at Dover and Talladega en route to an eighth place points finish.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.

(Photo: "Fast" Eddie Maloney via photopin cc)
Kannapolis, NC : Dale Earnhardt Memorial

"Earnhardt Tower", a seating section at Daytona International Speedway, was opened and named in his honor.
(Photo: Matthew Trudeau Photography via photopin cc)
Earnhardt statue at Daytona USA

Earnhardt has several roads named after him, including a street in his hometown of Kannapolis named after him.
(Photo: Jym Ferrier via photopin cc)
Dale Earnhardt Boulevard is marked as Exit 60 off Interstate 85, northeast of Charlotte. 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, near the headquarters of DEI, formerly NC 136, had its designation switched by the North Carolina Department of Transportation with State Highway 3 which was in Currituck County. In addition, Exit 73 off Interstate 35W, one of the entrances to Texas Motor Speedway, 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 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.

Between the 2004 and 2005 JGTC season, Hasemi Sport competed in the series with a sole black G'Zox sponsored Nissan 350Z with the same number and letterset as Earnhardt on the roof.

During the April 29, 2006 – May 1, 2006 NASCAR weekend races at Talladega Superspeedway, 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 No. 3 NASCAR Busch Grand National series car. In the Nextel Cup race on May 1, No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 1 Martin Truex Jr., and No. 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 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. with the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, announced it will fund an annual undergraduate scholarship at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina 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.

In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the first Daytona 500 race, DEI and RCR teamed up to make a special COT 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 throwback No. 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 roller coaster has been open since April 2010 at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. Named after Earnhardt, the ride's trains are modeled after Dale Earnhardt's black-and-red Chevrolet. Another Intimidator was built at Carowinds, in Charlotte, NC.

Atlanta Braves assistant coach Ned Yost was a friend of Earnhardt, and Richard Childress. When Yost was named Milwaukee Brewers manager, he changed jersey numbers, from No. 5 to No. 3 in Earnhardt's honor. When Yost was named Kansas City Royals assistant coach, he wore No. 2 for the 2010 season, even when he was named manager in May 2010, but for the 2011 season, he switched back to #3.

During the third lap of the 2011 Daytona 500, a decade since Earnhardt's death, the commentators on FOX fell silent while fans each raised three fingers in a similar fashion to the tributes throughout 2001.

The north entrance to New Avondale City Center in Arizona will bear the name Dale Earnhardt Drive. Avondale is where Earnhardt won a Cup race in 1990.

His helmet from the 1998 season is at the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C.

Achievements;
1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994 Winston Cup Series Champion
1990, 1995, 1999, 2000 IROC Champion
1998 Daytona 500 Winner
1995 Brickyard 400 Winner
1987, 1989, 1990 Southern 500 Winner
1986, 1992, 1993 Coca-Cola 600 Winner
1990, 1994, 1999, 2000 Winston 500 Winner
The Winston Winner 1987, 1990, 1993
Led Winston Cup Series in wins in 1987, 1990
Led Winston Cup Series in poles in 1990
Led Busch Series in wins in 1986

Awards;
1979 Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year
2001 Winston Cup Series Most Popular Driver
Named as one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998
2002 Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
2006 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
2010 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee
(Photo: i heart him via photopin cc)

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