The story began in 1961 Kannapolis, North Carolina, with ten-year-old Dale Earnhardt, played by Dylan Smith, standing outside of the mill were his father Ralph Earnhardt, played by J.K. Simmons, worked.
As the movie progressed through the decade of the 1960's and into the early 1970's the movie perfectly displayed the relationship between Ralph Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, played by Barry Pepper, a relationship that would leave a profound mark on Dale's life. In Kannapolis, life consisted of two things, working at the mill or racing cars.
Just like his father, Dale decided that it was time to quit school and take up racing. Pretty soon his hard driving win or go home style became successful on the dirt tracks of North Carolina. Dale was forced to finish in the top three every race to feed his family, because third place was the final money paying position.
As the movie went on past the death of Dale's father and the downfall of his first two marriages two key things stuck out in my mind, Dale's relationship with his best friend and fellow driver, Neil Bonnett, played by Sean Bridges, and his 1980's rivalry with Darrell Waltrip, played by Greg Thompson.
The saddest point in the story is when Dale Earnhardt Jr., played by Chad McCumbee, walks into his father's motor home at Daytona in 1994 and has to break the news to him that his dear friend Bonnett, has passed away in a practice run crash.
There is no doubt that the greatest part of this movie was the very end, the 2001 Daytona 500. ESPN used the actual footage of Earnhardt's fatal crashed, and just before the car hit the wall, there was a flash of light and the ten year old Earnhardt back at the mill waiting on his father to meet him, as the story ends Ralph Earnhardt lifts the young Dale high into the sky, father and son meet again, and it couldn't have ended any other way.
The life of Dale Earnhardt is one that couldn't fully be portrayed in a 90 minute made for TV movie, but ESPN did a great job. They showed the hardships of Earnhardt's life in North Carolina and the greatness of his career in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt is arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history, and inarguably had the greatest car control of anybody in NASCAR history. Two quotes simplify the greatness of Dale Earnhardt's "Intimidator" attitude and hard all out driving style: "You couldn't castrate him with a chainsaw," Cale Yarborough, and "He was the last cowboy," Kyle Petty. Almost three full years after his death at the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt is still greatly missed.
Julian Spivey (SNL)