Dale Earnhardt Sr.: NASCAR's Own Classic Version of "American Pie"

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IMarch 27, 2010

ROCKINGHAM, NC - OCTOBER 23:  Dale Earnhardt driver of the #3 GM Goodwrench Cheverolet poses with the NASCAR Winston Cup championship trophy after winning the AC Delco 500 on October 23, 1994 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina. (Photo by Bill Hall/Getty Images)
Bill Hall/Getty Images

On a cold winter's night back on Feb. 3, 1959, a small private plane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa, bound for Fargo, N.D. It never made its destination.

When that plane crashed, it claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson, and the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Three of rock and roll's most promising performers were gone. As Don McLean wrote in his classic music parable "American Pie," it was "the day the music died. "

Throughout the years, the world of sports and entertainment has seen its share of fallen heroes, those who in one way or another touched the lives of those around them.

Whether in person or watching on our television sets, these legends were the backbone of the culture in which we grew up.

Many times, we watched them while thinking what it would be like to walk in their shoes. At times, we tried to fulfill our own dreams by mimicking what it was that made them famous.

Life has always been about the journey. From time to time, each of one us have experienced life’s many crises from the different changing events and transitions, all unpredictable moments arriving and intruding into our “well groomed” lives.

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We didn’t ask for this interference, and sometimes we find ourselves wondering why it has arrived, bringing with it havoc and confusion.

Along with the havoc and confusion, there is one hell of an adventure that is waiting to explode right before our very eyes.

The journey that Earnhardt embarked on is one that, even today, is still one the most talked about subjects whenever the word NASCAR is mentioned.

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Sr. was born April 29, 1951. A NASCAR legend to some, but yet to his family, he was a son, father, brother, and also a husband.

Earnhardt was as wholesome as American pie. Whether you loved him or hated him, the legacy that he left behind was…A long, long time ago...I can still remember how that No. 3 used to make me smile .

With a twinkle in his eye, and a devilish grin on his face, Dale Earnhardt Sr. pushed and shoved his way into NASCAR superstardom.

Call it what you want—passion, infatuation, enthusiasm, or just a plain and simple  love for the sport.

Our modern dictionary is full of words that can be used to describe the enormous impact—good or bad—that this one driver alone has had in the NASCAR series.

Excellence and dedication on and off the track were two of his biggest strengths, along with the zeal to be the best driver.

He was tenacious when it came to accomplishing the goals that he set before himself. Very seldom did he ever fall short of achieving what most other drivers could only dream of.

NASCAR to him was a way of life, as well as a world that he would dominate in his own special way.

Never has a driver come from such a simple lifestyle to steal hearts—as well as crush a few—on his way to becoming one the sport's most recognizable figures.

His popularity wasn’t constrained to just motorsports alone. His reputation took him beyond the NASCAR walls and into the limelight of everyday sports.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. was born a legend. Throughout his storybook career, he took every advantage, as well as the gifts that were given to him, in order to give back to the sport and the fans who gave him so much.

Earnhardt’s love for the sport catapulted him to places that very few drivers have ever reached. At the same time, it allowed him to become one of NASCAR’s most popular ambassadors.

Earnhardt not only believed in himself, but he also believed in his own abilities. He took many chances other drivers would frown upon.

Earnhardt’s greatness was portrayed in those who chose him as their own hero. There were still those fans who couldn’t find it in their hearts to overlook his aggressive driving style.

Either way, “The Intimidator” continued to take NASCAR by storm. At the same time, he catapulted the sport into the homes of motorsports fanatics around the country, because of his uncompromising driving abilities, which were admired by those who witnessed them.

The word "quit" was never found in his vocabulary, nor could anyone quench the fire that burned deep within his heart to always be the best.

Many drivers who come through the series leave some sort of footprint for the next generation driver to follow. This special set of prints have yet to be followed though because of the legacy hidden deep within the soles.

Earnhardt’s accomplishments made him one of NASCAR’s most decorated drivers. All you had to do is put an ear to them, and almost magically you could listen to history being spoken in a small, still voice.

Death is eminent in any sport, especially when you take into consideration how dangerous NASCAR racing is, because of the high speeds these 3,500-pound cars travel.

When the Grim Reaper comes knocking at your door, there is no escaping his deadly grip, since he has no respect for who is next on the list.

On a warm, sunlit day back on Feb. 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr. would buckle himself into his famous black, grey, and red No. 3 Goodwrench-sponsored Chevrolet, just as he had done many times during his 22-year legendary career.

Earnhardt never reached his final destination. There would be no last-lap heroics, but instead these few words from "American Pie" about the day that NASCAR died.

But February made me shiver with every paper I'd deliver. Bad news on the doorstep; I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. But something touched me deep inside the day the No. 3 died.

Bye-bye Miss American pie. Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry. And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this'll be the day that I die.

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