He had a lot of nicknames: The Intimidator, Ironhead, The Man in Black, among others. All of them were appropriate in their own way.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. raced his No. 3 Chevy hard. He was one of NASCAR’s most feared competitors and prolific winners. And with the Monster Energy Cup Series Playoffs just weeks away, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame has hearkened back to the past for its Member of the Month.
Earnhardt was born to race. His father, Ralph, made a name for himself on short tracks where he won NASCAR’s Sportsman Championship in 1956, a year after finishing runner-up on the circuit. He also raced 51 times on the Grand National level, posting 15 top-10 finishes.
Like his father, Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis. The town pays homage to the late driver with its self-guided Dale Trail where you can see his 9-foot, 900-pound bronze statue, surrounded by benches in groups of three, and eat his favorite tomato sandwich with Miracle Whip on white bread at Punchy’s Diner.
Earnhardt dropped out of school when he was in the ninth grade to pursue his dream of racing. Although his father, who died of a heart attack when his son was 22, had wanted his son to finish high school, he taught him everything he knew about racing and the inner workings of a car.
Earnhardt quickly graduated from hobby cars to the big leagues of NASCAR, making his Winston Cup debut in 1975. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 after winning his first race at Bristol, Tennessee, in just his 16th start. The first of his phenomenal seven NASCAR titles came a year later.
Along the way, Earnhardt developed a reputation as one of racing’s most aggressive and exciting drivers, winning 76 races and more than $35 million on the track. He was killed in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 where his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third.
"He was the ultimate fan hero," Bobby Allison, a 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee told the Orlando Sentinel. "There were so many people who loved him or loved to boo him. But they made noise, and that caused more excitement to go on. He was the ultimate class act for our sport."
Rusty Wallace, who won 55 NASCAR races, agreed.
“When I was competing, he was amazing,” Wallace told Newsday on the 10th anniversary of Earnhardt’s death. “He was the man in black. He wore black pants, black shirt, black boots. Black sunglasses.
“But he just had an incredible personality. He connected with the fans. His relationship with the NASCAR fans was off the chart. There are a lot of people, old-style NASCAR people, who still miss him. We had a lot of wrecks on the track. But we became great friends.”
Earnhardt was inducted into the NCSHOF in 1994 and his son, Dale Jr., who won 26 NASCAR races before retiring in 2017, followed him into the Hall last May. For more information on Dale Sr., click here. https://www.ncshof.org/daleearnhardt
Tag(s): Member of the Month