Fiercely competitive on the track and a gentleman off the track, Dale Earnhardt re-defined the modern-era NASCAR driver and became one of the sport’s first superstars. Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 1951, Earnhardt would watch his father build dirt track cars in the family garage and accompany him to races. His father’s death in 1973 from a heart attack was a crushing blow, but he was determined to continue his family’s racing legacy. Earnhardt began racing in his late teens on local tracks around North Carolina. He would build and repair his cars by himself, often borrowing money to do so, hoping to win in order to pay off his debts.
In 1979, team owner Rod Osterlund offered Earnhardt his first full-time NASCAR ride. He started 27 races that year, and earned Rookie of the Year honors with 17 top ten finishes. Earnhardt won his first NASCAR Championship the following year, but Osterlund decided to sell his team during the next season, forcing Earnhardt to finish the season driving for Richard Childress. Childress recognized Earnhardt’s talent, and urged him to leave for a more competitive team. Earnhardt left to drive for Bud Moore Racing, but would rejoin Childress in 1984. Over the next 18 years, Earnhardt and Childress would combine to produce numerous NASCAR victories and six NASCAR Championships with his signature #3 Chevrolet.
Despite Earnhardt’s incredible success, there was one victory that continually eluded him; the Daytona 500. It would take 20 attempts for him to finally claim his first Daytona 500 victory in 1998, the 71st of his career. In a sad twist of fate, it was also the Daytona 500 that took Earnhardt’s life in 2001. Earnhardt’s career stats may never again be equaled. He tied Richard Petty’s record for most NASCAR titles (seven), and was honored as one of NASCARS 50 greatest drivers (along with his father). One of the winningest drivers of his generation, Dale Earnhardt’s unique, forceful driving style and never-say-quit attitude earned him the nickname “The Intimidator.”