Dale Earnhardt - A tribute to the intimidator

Do you want to post a tribute about your favourite retired drivers, perhaps you want to discuss the rantings of the MIT (men in tweed). They thought they were safer when they retired, perhaps not mumblers!! How about a tribute to those that are not drivers but still in the game?

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Dale Earnhardt - A tribute to the intimidator

Postby stradlin21 » Wed 03 Jan, 2007 4:08 am

Old iron head, the intimitador, will never be forgotten by the NASCAR community

Early life
Dale Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 1951. His father, Ralph Earnhardt, was then one of the best short-track drivers in NASCAR. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, and even dropped out of high school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it would take many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father.

Early Winston Cup career
Dale Earnhardt began his Winston Cup career in 1975, making his first start at the Charlotte in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre car and finished 22nd in the race. Earnhardt would compete in 8 more races until 1979, when he would join Rod Osterlund Racing, in a season that would see a rookie class of future stars - Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte.

In his rookie season, Earnhardt would win four poles, one race (at Bristol), 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finish, and finish 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year honors.

In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with a 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, would begin the season winning the Busch Clash. With wins at Atlanta, Bristol, Nashville, Martinsville, and Charlotte, Earnhardt easily won his first Winston Cup championship.

In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J. D. Stacy during the season, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing, where he would finish 7th in the points standings, despite not winning. The following year, under Childress' suggestion, he joined car owner Bud Moore for the 1982 and 1983 seasons. During the 1982 season, Earnhardt would struggle; while winning Darlington, he failed to finish 15 races, finishing 12th in the points standings, which would tie a career worst finish. In 1983, Earnhardt would rebound, winning his first of 13 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt would record wins at Nashville and at Talladega, finishing eighth in the points standings.

After the 1983 season, Earnhardt would return to Richard Childress Racing. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt would visit victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, finishing fourth and eighth, respectively.

The 1986 season would see Earnhardt win his second career Winston Cup Championship and the first owner's championship for RCR, winning five races, ten Top 5 finishes, and sixteen Top 10 finishes. Earnhardt would successfully defend his championship the following year, visiting victory lane eleven times and winning the championship by 288 points over Bill Elliott. In the process, Earnhardt would set a NASCAR modern era record of four consecutive wins and won five of the first seven races. The 1987 season also would see Earnhardt earn his nickname "The Intimidator" after spinning out Elliott in the final segment of The Winston.

The 1988 season would see Earnhardt racing with a new sponsor, GM Goodwrench, replacing Wrangler. It would be during this season that Earnhardt would garner a second nickname, "The Man in Black", owing to the black paint scheme in which the #3 car was painted. He would win three times in 1988, finishing third in the points standings behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace. The following year, Earnhardt would win five times, but a late spinout at North Wilkesboro arguably cost him the 1989 championship, as Rusty Wallace would edge Earnhardt for the championship

1990s
The 1990 season started with another disappointing result in the Daytona 500. Speed Week started auspiciously with victories in the Busch Clash and his heat of the Gatorade Twin 125's. Near the end of the 500, he had a 4 second lead when the final caution flag came out with a handful of laps to go. When the green flag came out, Earnhardt was leading Derrike Cope. On the last lap, Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal at the final turn, cutting a tire. Cope, in an upset, won the race while Earnhardt finished 5th. The #3 Goodwrench Chevy team took the flat tire that cost them the win and hung it on the shop wall. Apparently, this strategy worked, because Earnhardt won nine races. He also won his 4th Winston Cup title, beating out Mark Martin by just 26 points.

The 1991 season saw Earnhardt win his 5th Winston Cup championship. He scored just 4 wins, but took the title by 195 points over Ricky Rudd. One of the biggest highlights of the season for Earnhardt was scoring the win at North Wilkesboro. Harry Gant, who had tied Earnhardt's mark of 4 consecutive wins and was going for a 5th, lost the brakes late in the race, giving Earnhardt the chance he needed to make the pass for the win.

After winning his second set of consecutive titles, Dale Earnhardt was determined to make it 3 in a row, but Ford's new engine and aerodynamic package for the Thunderbird dominated, winning 13 consecutive races from the end of the 1991 season into the first nine races of 1992. Earnhardt's only win in 1992 came at Charlotte, in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600, ending the 13-race win streak for the Ford teams. Earnhardt would finish a career-low 12th in the points for the 2nd time in his career, and the only time he had finished that low since going to RCR. At the end of the year, longtime crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine left to become a driver. Andy Petree took over as crew chief.

Hiring Petree turned out to be beneficial, as the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy returned to the front in 1993. Earnhardt once again came close to a win at the Daytona 500, dominating throughout Speedweeks before finishing 2nd to Dale Jarrett on a last-lap pass. Earnhardt would score 6 wins en route to his 6th Winston Cup title, including wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and The Winston at Charlotte, and the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. Earnhardt beat Rusty Wallace for the championship by 80 points.

In 1994, Earnhardt achieved a feat that he himself had believed to be impossible - he scored his seventh Winston Cup championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty. Earnhardt was very consistent, scoring 4 wins, and winning the title by over 400 points over Mark Martin. Although Earnhardt would continue to dominate in the seasons ahead, this would prove to be the last Winston Cup title of his career.

Earnhardt started off the 1995 season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 to Sterling Marlin. He would win 5 races in 1995, including his first road course victory at Sears Point and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a win he called the biggest of his career in 1995. But in the end, Earnhardt lost the title to Jeff Gordon by just 34 points.

Earnhardt began 1996 with a repeat of 1993 - he dominated Speedweeks only to finish second in the Daytona 500 to Dale Jarrett for a 2nd time. Earnhardt won early in the year, scoring consecutive victories at Rockingham and Atlanta. In late July at Talladega, he was in the points lead and looking for his eighth title despite the departure of crew chief Andy Petree. Late in the race, Ernie Irvan lost control of his #28 Havoline Ford Thunderbird, igniting a frightening crash that saw Earnhardt's #3 Chevrolet hit the tri-oval wall head-on at nearly 200 miles per hour. After hitting the wall, Earnhardt's car flipped and slid across the track, in front of race-traffic. His car was hit in the roof and windshield, and the accident led NASCAR to mandate the "Earnhardt Bar", a metal brace located in the center of the windshield that reinforces the roof in case of a similar crash.

Rain-delays had cancelled the live telecast of the race and most fans first learned of the accident during the night's sports newscasts. Video of the crash showed what appeared to be a fatal incident, but once medical workers arrived at the car, Earnhardt climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing the be loaded onto a stretcher despite a broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulderblade. Many thought the incident would end his season early, but Earnhardt refused to give up. The next week at Indianapolis, he started the race but exited the car on the first pit stop, allowing Mike Skinner to take the wheel. When asked, Earnhardt said that vacating the #3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done. The following weekend at Watkins Glen, he drove the #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet to the fastest time in qualifying, earning the "True Grit" pole. T-shirts emblazoned with Earnhardt's face were quickly printed up, brandishing the caption, "It Hurt So Good." Earnhardt led most of the race and looked to have victory in hand, but fatigue finally took its toll and Earnhardt ending up 6th, behind race winner Geoff Bodine. Earnhardt would not win again in 1996, but he still finished 4th in the standings behind Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett. David Smith would leave as crew chief of the #3 team at the end of the year to become team manager of the new #31 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse RCR entry of Mike Skinner (NASCAR) as a teammate to Earnhardt and Larry McReynolds would replace him.

In the 1997 season, Earnhardt went winless for only the 2nd time in his career. The only (non-points) win came during speedweeks at Daytona in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race, his record 8th straight win in the event. Once again in the hunt for the Daytona 500 with 10 laps to go, Earnhardt was taken out of the Daytona 500 by a late crash which sent his car upside down the backstretch. Earnhardt would hit the low point of his year when he would black out early in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 in Darlington, causing him to hit the wall. He would go to the hospital and be cleared to race, but had no idea what caused it. Despite no wins (all of Chevrolet's wins were by Hendrick Motorsports -- Ford won all other races in 1997, Pontiac won once) the RCR team finished the season 5th in the final standings, with no DNF's.

After 20 years of disappointment in the Daytona 500 Earnhardt finally won the race in 1998. He started Speedweeks by winning his Twin 125-mile qualifier race for the ninth straight year. On race day, Dale showed himself to be a contender early. But at halfway, it seemed that Jeff Gordon had the upper hand. But by lap 138, Earnhardt had taken the lead, and thanks to a push by teammate Mike Skinner, he would not lose it. Earnhardt beat Bobby Labonte to the checkered flag in the race. Afterwards, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to Victory Lane. Earnhardt then drove his #3 into the infield grass, starting a trend of post-race celebrations. He spun the car twice, throwing grass and leaving tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass. Earnhardt then spoke about the victory, saying "I have had a lot of great fans and people behind me all through the years and I just can't thank them enough. The Daytona 500 is over. And we won it! We won it!" Unfortunately, the rest of the season would not go as well. He slipped to 12th in the standings halfway in the season, and Richard Childress decided to make a crew chief change, taking Mike Skinner's crew chief Kevin Hamlin and putting him with Earnhardt while giving Skinner Larry McReynolds. Earnhardt was able to climb back to 8th in the final standings.

Before the 1999 season, fans had started talking about Earnhardt's age and thinking that with his son Dale Jr. getting into racing that Earnhardt might be contemplating retirement. Earnhardt swept both races for the year at Talladega, leading most observers to conclude that Earnhardt's talent was limited to the restrictor plate tracks, which requires a unique skill set and an exceptionally powerful car to win. But half-way through the year, Earnhardt began to show some of the old spark. In the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt led laps late in the race and nearly pulled off his first win on a non-restrictor plate track since 1996.

One week later, he provided the sport with one of its most controversial moments.

At the August Bristol race, Earnhardt found himself in contention to win his first short track race since Martinsville in 1995. When a caution came out with 15 laps to go, leader Terry Labonte got hit from behind by the lapped car of Darrell Waltrip. His spin put Earnhardt in the lead with 5 cars between he and Labonte with 5 laps to go. Labonte had four fresh tires and Earnhardt was driving on old tires, which made Earnhardt's car considerably slower. Labonte caught Earnhardt and passed him coming to the white flag, but Earnhardt drove hard into turn two, bumping Labonte and spinning him around. Dale went on to collect the win while spectators booed and made obscene gestures. "I didn't try to turn him around, I just wanted to rattle his cage", Earnhardt said of the incident. Earnhardt would finish 7th in the standings that year, and looked like a contender again.

In the 2000 season, Earnhardt had a resurgence, which some attributed to neck surgury he underwent to correct a lingering injury from his 1996 Talladega crash. He scored what many considered the 2 most exciting wins of the year - winning by .006 seconds over Bobby Labonte at Atlanta, then gaining seventeen positions in four laps to win at Talladega, claiming his first No Bull 5 million dollar bonus. Earnhardt also enjoyed strong second-place runs at Richmond and Martinsville, tracks where he'd struggled at through the late '90s. On the strength of these performances, Earnhardt took the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo to 2nd in the standings. However, poor performances at the road course of Watkins Glen, where he wrecked coming out of the innerloop, and mid-pack runs at intermediate tracks like Lowe's and Dover denied Earnhardt of the coveted eighth championship title.

Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500

His death was a shock to the sport and affected NASCAR greatly.

Tributes to Dale

"On behalf of Taylor, Dale Jr., Kerry, Kelley and the entire Earnhardt family, which also includes all the employees of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, we want to sincerely thank everyone that has offered their condolences during our very tragic loss. This outpouring has been overwhelming. We kindly ask that you keep our family in your thoughts and prayers."
Wife Teresa Earnhardt

"We're deeply saddened by the loss. We appreciate everybody for their support. We'll get through this. I'm sure he'd want us to go on."
Son Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"Dale Earnhardt was the greatest race car driver that ever lived," said Ned Jarrett. "He could do things with a race car that no one else could. He had a tremendous impact on NASCAR Racing. He's done so much to help the sport get where it is today."

"Brooke (Gordon) and I are deeply saddened by this devastating loss," said Jeff Gordon. "Not only is it a huge loss for this sport, but a huge loss for me personally. Dale taught me so much and became a great friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with Teresa and the entire Earnhardt family."

"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver," said NASCAR chairman of the board Bill France, who himself is recovering from life-threatening illnesses, "and I personally have lost a great friend."

"Words cannot express the tremendous loss all of us at Richard Childress Racing are feeling at this time. All of our thoughts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with Martha, Teresa, Kerry, Kelley, Dale Jr. and Taylor Nicole and the entire Earnhardt family.
"Dale Earnhardt was much more than a race car driver. He was a very loving husband and proud father and grandfather. He was a successful businessman. He was also a hero to millions of racing fans throughout the world.
"Dale was my friend. We hunted together and raced together. We laughed and cried together. We were able to work side-by-side and have success we had for almost 20 years because we were friends first. I will miss him always. He was the greatest."
Richard Childress, owner of Dale Earnhardt's car

"I, like everyone else, am in shock with the passing of Dale Earnhardt. Besides being an incredible driver and spokesman for the sport he so loved, he was a true friend and has been a major influence on my life and career. Understandably, my family's thoughts are with Teresa, Kerry, Kelly, Dale Jr. and Taylor Nicole. May god bless all of them and watch over them in this time of need."
Defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte

"Dale Earnhardt made a difference in the world. On the track, he made us all better drivers because he set a standard of excellence we all aspired to achieve. He had a passion and a desire that took the sport of NASCAR to a new level every time he climbed in the car. Off the track he was kind, giving, loving man who gave his all to his family and friends. He worked tirelessly to make the world a better place for as many people as possible who were less fortunate than he. I did not know him as long as most of the other drivers but he made a huge impact on my life in the years I have been in NASCAR. I am grateful and blessed to have had the benefit of his wisdom and guidance."
Driver Tony Stewart

"On behalf of everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, we would like to extend our heartfelt sympathies to Teresa and the entire Earnhardt family as well as everyone at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Richard Childress Racing. While Dale was a fierce competitor on and off the track and leader in the community, he was a member of our family and as you can imagine, we are grieving that loss."
Joe Gibbs, car owner(18 & 20)

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Dale Earnhardt 1951-2001
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stradlin21
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