Dale Earnhardt Sr.: A Tribute To "The Intimidator"
A legend was born on April 29, 1951. A NASCAR legend to some, but yet to his family he was a son, father, brother, and also a husband.
With a twinkle in his eye, and a devilish grin on his face, Dale Earnhardt Sr. pushed and shoved his way into NASCAR superstardom.
His highly aggressive driving style made him a fan favorite, which was how he earned his nicknames, “Old Iron Head,” “The Man in Black,” and of course the most famous of all, “The Intimidator.”
The words to the song Freebird, “If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?” sums up his racing accomplishments.
Seven-time Winston Cup Championships (‘80, ‘86, ‘87, ‘90, ‘91, ‘93, '94)
Four-time IROC Champion (‘90, ‘95, ‘99, ‘00) 76 Race Wins Rookie of the Year (1979)
The only driver to win Rookie of the year, and the Winston Cup championship in successive years, (‘79, ‘80)
Ranks 2nd on NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers list 2002
Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee 2006 International Motorsports Hall of fame Inductee
Six-time Bud Shootout Winner
Earnhardt was NASCAR’s most controversial, as well as one of the most highly skilled drivers of his time.
While on the track, he made as many friends as enemies due his rough driving style. It was because of these traits that he was always the center of controversy whenever he took to the track.
Many NASCAR fans during his time even said that he had no respect for his fellow competitors, but yet his driving skills were never doubted by any driver that ever raced against him.
By far, Earnhardt was the fiercest competitor of his day, and it showed thanks to a take no prisoners type of attitude.
He lived a well balanced life, even though most of the stories we hear are from the many battles he had while piloting his famous black, No. 3 RCR GM Goodwrench Chevy sponsored race car. Most of those stories were consequential because of his aggressive style of driving, while controversy continued to follow him wherever he raced.
Some drivers even said that he would wreck you if he couldn’t get around you.
His determination and desire to be the best, was like that of a roaring lion lying in wait to devour its next victim while on the track, but away from the track he had one of the biggest hearts, when it came to helping out the various NASCAR charities.
During Earnhardt’s illustrious 22-year NASCAR career, he would stockpile many accomplishments as well as a scrapbook of memories that included 1987, when he had his best season yet.
During that season alone, "The Intimidator" visited victory lane an astounding 11 times, on his way to his second Winston Cup championship.
It would be the first of three times that he would win back to back Cup titles.
He also set a modern day record of four consecutive wins, while starting off the season winning five of the first seven races.
Daytona, as we all know was Earnhardt’s biggest challenge, and The Intimidator definitely had a black cloud over him whenever the month of February came around.
Earnhardt had not only proven to himself, but also to his fellow competitors that he could race any type of track that the France family could throw his way, but still his dream of winning the Daytona 500 continued to slip away from him like some bad nightmare.
Each year, the Daytona beast was becoming more and more untameable, and not once did any driver ever say he lacked the skills or the desire to defeat this demon. It was more than evident when he earned the title, “King of Restrictor Plate Racing."
He had many last lap heroics, as well as many last lap disappointments, which to this day are still featured during the pre-race shows.
Life was good to Earnhardt, but Daytona was still only a dream. 1994 would see Earnhardt accomplish what many felt couldn’t be done. He not only won his seventh championship, but also his third set of back to back championships.
It started out as a beautiful Sunday morning, with all the usual hoopla that Daytona was famous for. The fans were all getting ready for the 40th running of the Great American race as well as NASCAR’s 50th anniversary.
Earnhardt’s dream would finally come true, and he would finally get the win that eluded him over the years. Earnhardt would finally be a Daytona champion.
As he came down pit road on his way to victory lane, all of the teams lined pit road to high five the man who was most deserving of the win, even though he may have frustrated their driver at one time or another.
Then on February 18, 2001, disaster would strike. Earnhardt would buckle himself into his race car, it was something that he did over 700 times in his career.
Earnhardt had the look of a proud father, knowing that his son Dale Jr. would also be in the starting field.
The elder Earnhardt's life had really taken a turn for the better; The Intimidator was ready to make history, but not the kind that he and Teresa ever thought imaginable.
This would be the last of their customary kiss before each race, because her life too would be changed forever before the end of the day.
The green flag waved to start the 43rd running of the Great American race. The biggest audience to ever see a NASCAR race would also witness one of the biggest blows to a modern day sports hero.
Who could ever forget the words of Mike Helton: “This has to be one of the toughest announcements that I have personally had to make. After the accident in turn four of the Daytona 500, we have lost Dale Earnhardt."
He was gone in the twinkling of an eye doing what he loved best, driving a race car. Daytona had taken the sports biggest hero, on the first race of what was to be the beginning of NASCAR finally making it to the national spotlight.
We all waited for him to walk away and wave to the crowd that he was alright, but instead to the shock of all who witnessed it, this was one that not even “The Intimidator" and “The Man in Black” would be able to survive.
I guess God had better plans for him, or maybe he just wanted Dale all to himself. Earnhardt would go down as one of Daytona’s biggest heroes, while being honored with a statue out front holding his most prized possession.
His infamous black and red paint scheme with the white No. 3 is still to this day, one of the most famous cars in all of NASCAR history.
We all have those special moments, which we have cherished in our hearts. Dale Earnhardt Sr. left behind a long legacy of racing memories; some were good, and some were bad, but whatever they were, they were what legends are made of.
Thanks for the many memories, but most of all, we remember the words to Freebird, “If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?”
How can we not remember the legend? The legend that is Dale Earnhardt Sr.
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