Today is Dale Earnhardt Day; a day to remember arguably the greatest stock car driver that ever lived. While most journalists will write about what he did or why he was so good, I have decided to go further than that. I want to talk about the legacy he created and all the different ways this man captured the hearts of millions changing the face of this sport forever.
There are men in this world that strive for fame and fortune but there are a select few that reach a heroic level of immortality. Dale Earnhardt is one of those men. His competitors feared him, fans either loved him or loved to hate him but everyone agreed that the kind of raw talent he possessed can’t be taught. What made him so good was not only the obvious fact that he could wheel a racecar but that he didn’t want to win, he needed to win. If he didn’t finish in the money, his family went hungry. If he failed, he knew that he was going to have to spend the rest of his life working at that mill in Kannapolis, North Carolina and no way in hell was he going to settle for that.
He persevered through losing his dad when he was 22, being forced to watch his wife leaving him and with her his first born when she got fed up with his racing and of course he watched his best friend Neil Bonnett die in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in 1994. Seven years later on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Dale lost his life in that very same corner in one of the worst days of my young life. I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face as he tried to explain to his 7 and 10 year old sons that they watched their hero die earlier that day. For me, I found consolation thinking about my other childhood hero, Steve Irwin who ultimately died tragically doing what he loved like Dale when a stingray stabbed him through the heart in 2006.
After that race, I stopped watching NASCAR and basically ignored the sport for three years. But my dad worked in it, my brother worked in it and I couldn’t stay away forever; racing is in my blood. Since the 2004 Daytona 500, I have never missed a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and don’t plan to. Dale is the reason why I love NASCAR the way I do today. I am more passionate now about this sport than I have ever been before and I will continue to pursue my dream of working in NASCAR just like he pursued his. For me, this sport is not a hobby; it’s my life and the more I watch it, the more I need it. Dale Earnhardt fought for what he wanted even when the odds were against him and in doing so, he has become a legend that to this day is remembered not with tributes on a certain day every year but every day. I think about him at least once a day and I’m sure most of you do too.
Who knows how many lives have been saved as a result of his death but I can tell you it’s a lot. The COT was created because we lost Dale and because of it, no national touring driver has died since that awful day in February of 2001. Carlos Pardo, John Blewett III, Tom Baldwin Sr. and Marcelo Nunez are all unfortunate examples of what could happen without the safety innovations that were put into the Cup, Nationwide and trucks in recent years. Even before “Black Sunday” as it has come to be known, Dale Earnhardt had already made a major impact on NASCAR simply from what he did on the track. He did things with a racecar that was thought to be impossible and in an era where it was a very real possibility that racers would die, Dale showed absolutely no fear.
Dale raced like his life depended on it and that’s because it did at one point. What made him so good was that he never let that style of driving go no matter how much money he was making. Had he never made it in NASCAR, the name Richard Childress would be known about as well as the name DK Ulrich is with only those older members of the racing community and a few diehard fans knowing of him. His team couldn’t win until Earnhardt showed up. What Dale did would be like Brad Keselowski winning the title last year, jumping into the No.34 for Front-Row Motorsports in 2013 and winning six championships for them. Seems impossible, right? Well, that’s exactly what Earnhardt did except for the fact that he did it twice. He won the 1980 title for Rod Osterlund and before he came along, the likes of Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Dan Gurney and even David Pearson couldn’t win a single race let alone a championship.
Dale was and still is remembered as one of the greatest men to ever wheel a racecar and let me tell you that he was one of the greatest men to ever live period. He acted tough but he had a heart of gold underneath that intimidating smile. He was capable of making drivers wreck themselves simply because they get unnerved when they saw the No.3 in their rear view mirror. Legend tells that he could see the air meaning he knew exactly what it was doing at all times which is what made him so good at Daytona and Talladega. He could take a car sideways through the grass a Charlotte at 180mph and save it while losing no spots in the process. Please feel free to post below how this NASCAR legend affected your life and what you believe made him so good. Today would have been his 62nd birthday and I want to take a moment to remember a truly great man who changed the world for the better and even in death, he reached immortality…..happy birthday Dale Earnhardt.