One season later Earnhardt found himself in Victory Lane and won the first of his record-tying seven Winston Cup crowns. A season-ending paycheck of nearly $600,000 had Earnhardt in high cotton, and the brash driver from the backwoods of the Carolinas had become the newest star on the circuit.
But stardom came with a price. In his early days, Earnhardt was hardly a fan favorite and made several enemies on the track. He was unafraid to swap paint with legends of the sport such as Richard Petty and David Pearson, and “love taps” became one of his tricks of the trade.
Was Earnhardt a dangerous driver? Probably. But stock car racing is a dangerous sport, and he was also becoming the best driver in a circuit that was destined to become the most prestigious in the world.
While Osterland gave him his big break, it was the tandem of Earnhardt and Richard Childress that would result in the most dominant force in the modern area of Winston Cup.
Childress, a former driver himself, was a kindred spirit. The two became close friends, and whatever Earnhardt needed to be competitive, Childress provided.
Earnhardt drove 11 races for Childress in 1981, but after a two-year stint with Bud Moore, Earnhardt went with Childress full-time in 1984. Their first Winston Cup title together came in 1986, and they won another one in 1987.
Earnhardt was on top of the stock car world again in 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994. At the age of 43, Dale Earnhardt had won as many points titles as Petty, and he did so when NASCAR competition had reached its zenith.
In 1995 Earnhardt won five races but finished second in the points standings. He won two in 1996, and he went winless for the first time in 16 seasons in 1997.
In 1998 Earnhardt took just one checker, but it came in The Great American Race, marking the first time Earnhardt had ever won the season-opening Daytona 500.
In 1999 Earnhardt got back on track at Talladega Superspeedway, and by the end of the 2000 season Earnhardt was poised to regain his status as the best in the business.
After winning the 2000 Winston 500, Earnhardt had 76 victories and went on to finish second behind Bobby Labonte for the Winston Cup title.
Earnhardt, 49, was running third on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Tragically, it was a lap he would never complete.
Racing with Gomer Pyle
Jim Nabors is no stranger to the world of motorsports. He appeared in the movie Stroker Ace, a stock car racing-themed comedy. Nabors was the crew chief for the title character, played by Burt Reynolds.
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