Remembering a True Legend

| May 29, 2001

Ralph Earnhardt was an aggressive stock car driver and a man’s man, but he was also a father who was idolized by his son. Dale Earnhardt, who grew up in Kannapolis, N.C., was only 5 years old when his papa won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship, but Dale knew at an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

At 22, Dale was a working man while his dad was a racing man. With only a ninth grade education, the younger Earnhardt made ends meet by working in a textile factory. That same year – 1973 – Ralph was tinkering with his car when he died of heart failure. Suddenly, the patriarch of the Earnhardt clan was gone, and it was up to Dale to carry the torch.

“This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I’ve ever had to make. But after the accident in turn 4 of the Daytona 500, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”
- NASCAR CEO Mike Helton

A ham-and-egg driver while trying to feed his family with a full-time job, Dale Earnhardt was determined to break into the sport he and his father loved – and succeed.

In 1975, Earnhardt drove one race for owner Ed Negre, winning a grand total of $1,925. The next season, he was in two Winston Cup events, driving a car for W. Ballard and a car for Johnny Ray.
In 1977, it was one-and-out for Earnhardt, who piloted a car for Henly Gray and failed to finish the only race he started.

In 1978, Earnhardt was on the track five times – the first four for W. Cronkrite and the fifth for Rod Osterland. It was that last race – one that saw Earnhardt finish fourth – that got the attention of Osterland. The car owner was so impressed with the confident young man that he offered the twice-divorced father of three a chance to compete a full slate of Winston Cup racing in 1979.

Needless to say, Earnhardt made the most of his opportunity.”Brooke and I are deeply saddened by this devastating loss. Not only is it a huge loss for the sport, but a huge loss for me personally. Dale taught me so much and became a great friend.”
- NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon

Suiting up for 27 of the circuit’s events, Earnhardt picked up his first career win at Bristol and also had one second-place spot, three thirds, four fourth-place spots and two fifths.

When the season was done, Ralph’s boy had brought home $264,086 and won NASCAR Rookie of the Year honors. One season later, Earnhardt found himself in Victory Lane, and he 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.

Stardom came with a price, however. 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.

“Like all of the NASCAR family, I was stunned and saddened by the loss of Dale Earnhardt. We shared a common bond in championships as well as mutual respect. Our family has raced against his family since the sport began, going back to when Dad and I raced against Ralph Earnhardt.”
- NASCAR’s Richard Petty

Remembering a True Legend

| May 29, 2001

Ralph Earnhardt was an aggressive stock car driver and a man’s man, but he was also a father who was idolized by his son. Dale Earnhardt, who grew up in Kannapolis, N.C., was only 5 years old when his papa won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship, but Dale knew at an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

At 22, Dale was a working man while his dad was a racing man. With only a ninth grade education, the younger Earnhardt made ends meet by working in a textile factory. That same year – 1973 – Ralph was tinkering with his car when he died of heart failure. Suddenly, the patriarch of the Earnhardt clan was gone, and it was up to Dale to carry the torch.

“This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements I’ve ever had to make. But after the accident in turn 4 of the Daytona 500, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”
- NASCAR CEO Mike Helton

A ham-and-egg driver while trying to feed his family with a full-time job, Dale Earnhardt was determined to break into the sport he and his father loved – and succeed.

In 1975, Earnhardt drove one race for owner Ed Negre, winning a grand total of $1,925. The next season, he was in two Winston Cup events, driving a car for W. Ballard and a car for Johnny Ray.
In 1977, it was one-and-out for Earnhardt, who piloted a car for Henly Gray and failed to finish the only race he started.

In 1978, Earnhardt was on the track five times – the first four for W. Cronkrite and the fifth for Rod Osterland. It was that last race – one that saw Earnhardt finish fourth – that got the attention of Osterland. The car owner was so impressed with the confident young man that he offered the twice-divorced father of three a chance to compete a full slate of Winston Cup racing in 1979.

Needless to say, Earnhardt made the most of his opportunity.”Brooke and I are deeply saddened by this devastating loss. Not only is it a huge loss for the sport, but a huge loss for me personally. Dale taught me so much and became a great friend.”
- NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon

Suiting up for 27 of the circuit’s events, Earnhardt picked up his first career win at Bristol and also had one second-place spot, three thirds, four fourth-place spots and two fifths.

When the season was done, Ralph’s boy had brought home $264,086 and won NASCAR Rookie of the Year honors. One season later, Earnhardt found himself in Victory Lane, and he 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.

Stardom came with a price, however. 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.

“Like all of the NASCAR family, I was stunned and saddened by the loss of Dale Earnhardt. We shared a common bond in championships as well as mutual respect. Our family has raced against his family since the sport began, going back to when Dad and I raced against Ralph Earnhardt.”
- NASCAR’s Richard Petty

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