The day a little bit of NASCAR died. The day Dale Earnhardt died.
Dale Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina in April of 1951. He grew up in a racing family. His father, Ralph was a short track legend throughout North Carolina. When Ralph Earnhardt died of a heart attack in 1973 Dale received his father's car. Dale made his Winston Cup debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the World 600. In an Ed Negre owned car Earnhardt would go on to finish 22nd. In 1978 Rod Osterlund hired Earnhardt to race his car, because Dave Marcis left to pursue other adventures. In Dale's rookie year he would win a race at Bristol Motor Speedway and record eleven top five finishes. That year he would beat out future Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte for rookie of the year. In 1980, Earnhardt accomplished something that no other driver had ever done. He followed up his rookie of the year season with a championship season. It would be his first of a record seven championships.
In 1986, now driving the #3 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress, Earnhardt would win his second championship. In 1987, Earnhardt would have the year of his career winning eleven races, a career high, on his way to his third championship and his second in as many years. In 1988, Earnhardt started a relationship with GM Goodwrench Service as his sponsor. GM Goodwrench would remain Earnhardt's sponsor until the end. This is when Earnhardt became the "Man In Black." It somehow seemed right that Earnhardt would be driving a pitch black car, it fit right in with his persona. In 1990, Dale won nine races en route to his fourth career championship. In 1991, Earnhardt won back-to-back championships for the second time in his career. 1992 was Dale Earnhardt's most disappointing season of his career as he won only one race and finished twelfth in the points standings.
Dale Earnhardt was back to his usual self in 1993 as he won six races on his way to his sixth championship. There is a frequent saying in NASCAR that goes "cautions breed cautions." Apparently in Earnhardt's case "championships bred championships." In 1994 for the third time in his career Earnhardt won consecutive championships. Earnhardt was tied with legendary Richard Petty with seven career championships. The only thing that alluded Earnhardt now was the prestigious Daytona 500, a race that he so desperately wanted. For years and years Earnhardt had dominated the Daytona 500, but near the end fate would always intervene. 1998 would be a different story, it marked the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, and this would finally be the year that Dale Earnhardt would win the Daytona 500. When Darrell Waltrip finally won the Daytona 500 he jubilantly bellowed, "I won the Daytona 500. I won the Daytona 500." When Earnhardt won he was quoted as saying, "Now I've finally got that g—damn monkey of my back." He was ecstatic that the weight had finally been lifted off of him.
Three years after winning the Daytona 500, the track claimed Earnhardt's life on a last lap crash 500 yards from the finish line. Dale Earnhardt died doing what he loved. Four years have gone by now and the sport of NASCAR still has a void, an Earnhardt sized void, a mighty big void. Even though the sport has more stars now than ever, it is still no substitute to seeing the "Intimidator's" devilish grin every Sunday afternoon.
By: Julian Spivey