Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (April 29, 1951 - February 18, 2001) was an American NASCAR driver. He was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina. He died in a racing accident in turn four on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt grew up in a racing family. His father, Ralph, died of a heart attack while working on his race car in 1973. Dale Earnhardt began with his racing career two years later, and by 1979 he had won the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year award. For his aggressive driving style, Earnhardt quickly won the nickname "The Intimidator." He is generally credited with authorship of the quotation "second place is the first loser."
During his career, Earnhardt won the NASCAR Championship seven times, tying the record of the legendary Richard Petty. Additionally, his prize winnings totalled more than $41 million. In addition to a hard-charging racing style, Earnhardt was known for being excellent at drafting, the phenomenon where two cars lined up together go faster than one car alone. Earnhardt discovered "side-drafting". Earnhardt was also known for his dominance at restrictor plate racing. Restrictor plates are used at two superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega, where drafting also plays a large role in who wins — subsequently Dale Earnhardt and the teams he had worked with all do very well at those tracks. Earnhardt himself had 10 wins at Talladega alone.
Although he had won at Daytona many times in many different races--including six Budweiser Shootouts, two Pepsi 400s, twelve Gatorade Twin 125s (including ten in a row from 1990 through 1999) and six IROC races--it took him until 1998 to win the Daytona 500, on his twentieth try.
Dale drove the #3 car for most of his career, spanning the late 1970s until his unfortunate passing in 2001. As of 2005, no other Nextel Cup race car has used this number, and NASCAR has considered officially retiring it.
In 1981, after a successful two and a half year stint with car owner Rod Osterlund, winning the 1980 championship, Osterlund sold his team to J. D. Stacy. Earnhardt never liked Stacy, and when independent driver Richard Childress was given an offer to retire and let Earnhardt take over his #3 car, complete with Earnhardt's Wrangler Jeans sponsorship, Childress gave up his ride to field cars for Earnhardt. That partnership won 69 of Earnhardt's 76 races. While Earnhardt and Childress decided to split after the 1981 season (Earnhardt drove for Walter Moore, and Childress hired Ricky Rudd), they returned for 1984, and created one of the most successful teams in motorsports.
The #3 was sponsored by Wrangler Jeans , and later by Goodwrench . Earnhardt drove a Chevrolet model, that moved through the decades as a Lumina and later a Monte Carlo. The sinister looking all-black Goodwrench Chevrolet became the bast-known car driven by Earnhardt. He drove for Richard Childress Racing for most of his career. Although Earnhardt eventually formed his own racing outfit--Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated (DEI)--his loyalty to and friendship with Richard Childress kept him at RCR.
Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR was a very polarizing figure. People either loved him or hated him, but he was arguably one of the most popular drivers in the sport. Earnhardt's death drew a considerable reaction from the nation, NASCAR, and of course grief-stricken fans. It is remarkable that his son, Dale Jr., is still officially marked as "Earnhardt Jr." on the ticker, even though there is no longer a need to distinguish between father and son on the racetrack.
At the time of his death he was survived by his third wife Teresa and four children: Son Kerry (from his first marriage to Latane Brown), Kelley, Dale Jr. (both from his second marriage to Brenda Gee), and daughter Taylor (from his third marriage). Kerry and Dale Jr. are both NASCAR drivers. Dale Jr. finished second when his father died at the 2001 Daytona 500. The winner of that race, Michael Waltrip, was one of Dale's closest friends, and drove for DEI.
His fan base and vow to Childress to not stop if something happened to either of them showed three weeks after his death when Childress, who had now hired young California driver Kevin Harvick to replace Earnhardt in the now-renumbered and repainted #29 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet, scored his 70th career Winston Cup win as a car owner. The Fox television commentators' call of the final lap of the 2001 Golden Corral 500 from Hampton, Georgia, with Harvick defeating Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds, and the images of Earnhardt's legendary fueler, Danny "Chocolate" Myers, crying after the victory, remain one of the greatest moments in motorsports history, as the team Earnhardt made into a legend returned to glory just three weeks after his death. (The race was Harvick's third NASCAR start after spending 3 years in the Busch series, during which his best finish in the standings was—naturally—third.)
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