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NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Sr. - From boy to Superstar

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Dale Earnhardt

NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Sr. - From boy to Superstar

Chris DiCicco
February 18, 2008

Dale Earnhardt Sr. was born on April 29th, 1951 in Kannapolis, North Carolina and sadly died at aged 49 on February 18th, 2001 as a result of massive head trauma from a crash in the final lap of 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Sr. was also known as The Intimidator but those who knew him, would say differently. He was a philanthropist and never found the need for media coverage of his donations.

His father, Ralph Earnhardt, was one of the best known short-track drivers in North Carolina. He was not very encouraging of Earnhardt Sr’s ambition of racing cars as well and even when Earnhardt Sr. dropped out of high school to race, Ralph Earnhardt was hard on his son. Ralph Earnhardt did teach Earnhardt Sr. everything he knew and set the stage to make him the driver he turned into. His father realized that his driving skill came naturally and as such made his son view his mistakes as open mindedly as possible. Earnhardt Sr. appreciated everything his father did for him and missed his presence sorely when Ralph Earnhardt died of a heart attack in 1973.

Although Earnhardt Sr. started racing professionally at age 23, he ran his first race at Metolina Fairgrounds in Charlotte in the 1970 season where he finished in 10th place. In 1971, he finally won his first race which would then bring about 26 more wins while still racing at Metolina and Concord Motor Speedway. After he had quit school, he worked at several places like for an insulation company and he was also a welder who did brake jobs as well. Earnhardt Sr’s decision to race for a career came about after his father’s death. He bought an asphalt-track car while still competing at Metrolina. Although money was tight, Earnhardt Sr. always found away to get through it.

He began his Winston Cup career in 1975. In 1978, things took a turn for the better when he met Teresa Houston who then helped pave the way for Earnhardt Sr’s path to NASCAR success. Once out of his rookie season, Earnhardt Sr. started the season off with a win in the Busch Clash. He became the first and only driver thus far to have won Rookie of the year and then winning the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. He eventually went on to race for Richard Childress Racing in 1981 and then joined Bud Moore during the 1982 and 1983 season. After that he went back to Richard Childress Racing and in that time, managed to secure victory 6 times at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol and Martinsville.

He went on to carve NASCAR history in the following two decades. It is talked about the bigger things that could have been achieved had Earnhardt Sr. survived the fatal crash that took away a NASCAR legend. His #3 car was retired by his team owner who has promised never to let another car on his team be designed similarly. Although he was both loved and hated in NASCAR, he has remained one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Earnhardt Sr. made sure his private life was kept private. When he wasn’t on the tracks, he was with his family, hunting, fishing, working on his farm and known as generous giver amongst his friends. In 2004, his life story was made into a television movie, titled “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story” and in 2007, a documentary-style movie was released into theaters. Even in death, many still remember the great things Earnhardt Sr. accomplished and tributes in song, movies and books have been dedicated to the passing to the brightest star of NASCAR.

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