Dale Earnhardt Sr. was born in Kannapolis, NC to Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt. His dad Ralph was a natural born racer and one of the best short-track drivers at the time. Although Ralph didn’t want Dale to follow in his footsteps, his son had a dream and that was to race cars. The more he watched his dad race, the more he wanted that for himself. He even dropped out of high school to race.
When he was a teenager, Dale worked at a local auto mechanic shop doing welding and mounting tires. When he left work every day, he would rush to his garage to work on his racecars. Dale grew up fast and at the early age of 17, he married his first wife and had a son on the way. Financial issues soon arose and he parted ways with his wife and son. In 1973, Dale lost his father, Ralph to heart failure. He died in his own garage, doing what he loved working on his racecar.
The passing of Dale’s father devastated him but he pressed on with his dream of racing and with his life. Dale’s second wife was Brenda Gee (the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee). Together they had two children, Kelley and Dale Jr. Shortly after Dale Jr. was born, Dale and Brenda divorced. His third wife was Teresa. They were married for 20 years and had a daughter, Taylor.
Together in 1980, they founded Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Dale usually kept his personal life to himself. Most only saw the no-nonsense, intimidating side of him at the track. Privately, he did enjoy family time, fishing, hunting and working on his farm in Mooresville. He was known by those close to him to be charitable and generous. Dale’s NASCAR racing career spanned from 1975 to 2001. Over the years, his skills and aggressive driving style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator”. He was also known as “The Man in Black” referring to the black paint scheme in which his #3 car was painted. Some fans even called him “Darth Vader” because of the black uniform and car, adding to his notoriety as a driver who would wreck you if he couldn’t pass you. Dale was either loved or hated by race fans; nevertheless he was one of the sports most popular drivers.
Earnhardt suffered a tragic accident on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on February 18th, 2001. He did not survive the crash and was the fourth NASCAR driver to die in the nine months prior, the first being Adam Petty in May 2000. These fatal crashes led to increased safety precautions instituted by NASCAR. At a press conference, Mike Helton, the president of NASCAR made the formal announcement of Earnhardt’s death: “Undoubtedly this is one of the toughest announcements I’ve personally had to make. We’ve lost Dale Earnhardt. The #3 car, driven by Earnhardt since 1988, was immediately retired by Richard Childress, the team owner. Certainly Dale Earnhardt’s life and death touched many fans all over the United States.
Born: April 29, 1951
Birthplace: Kannapolis, NC
Died: February 18, 2001 (aged 49)
Awards: 1979 Rookie of the Year
4-Time IROC Champion, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2000
1998 Daytona 500 Winner
2001 NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award
2002 Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame
2006 Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
Top 10’s: 428
NASCAR Championships: 1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994