Dale Earnhardt, possibly NASCAR’s best racer and indisputably the greatest icon in sports, died 22 years ago today.
Yes. Hard to believe, but it’s been over two decades since «The Intimidator» he crashed coming out of turn 4 on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was just 49 years old.
He finished his Hall of Fame career with 76 wins, seven NASCAR championships, and, of course, a Daytona 500 in 1998. Earnhardt’s death made headlines for weeks, transcended the sport, and marked a turning point for NASCAR Safety Protocols.
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I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Dale wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device back then. It was optional when Earnhardt died at Daytona. By the end of the year, it was mandatory.
It’s been 22 years, so by now we’ve all seen the rerun.
It was FOX’s first. season broadcasting NASCAR, and Darrell Waltrip’s first real season in the booth. DW and Earnhardt were rivals on the track, but close friends off it.
In fact, when I spoke to Waltrip a few years ago, he said that he spoke to Dale just hours before the race.
«He said, ‘I’ve got it all DW, my family, my company, DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) is great, I’ve got it all,» Waltrip said. «He told me that he had never been so happy.»
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I was only 7 when Earnhardt died, so obviously I don’t remember much. In fact, I grew up a fan of Jeff Gordon, so I spent my early days rooting for him! Embarrassing, I know.
But I’ve also covered the last one seven Daytona 500, and I can tell you that everyone is an Earnhardt fan today. Want to know the most popular jersey, flag, hat, or body paint you see in the infield at Daytona International Speedway each year?
Yes, it’s number 3 black. And it’s not close.
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Although the «Come on Brandon» Flags have certainly given Dale a run for his money in recent years, but that’s for another time!
Anyway, all that to say Valley earnhardt he was and is a legend, and we shouldn’t let a year go by without remembering him. So, let’s kick off our Daytona 500 weekend with some iconic Dale videos and images.
Feel free to crack a beer while you browse. I know Earnhardt would!