April 22, 2014 10:23 am 6 comments Views: 409

He was simply known as THE INTIMIDATOR. He was a legend by all standards and was considered one of the best NASCAR has ever had. His life was cut short on one hot race day coming to the ‘checker3ed‘ flag.

The Intimidator

Click picture to view Dale s 10 best moments

What has happened since this tragedy you ask ?

After Earnhardt’s death, a police investigation and a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation commenced; nearly every detail of the crash was made public. The allegations of seatbelt failure resulted in Bill Simpson’s resignation from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt’s car and nearly every other NASCAR driver’s car.

The effects that Earnhardt’s death had over motorsports and the media frenzy that followed not just in the United States, but all over the world- were massive. Motorsport had not seen a death that had this magnitude of after-effects since Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994. Dale Earnhardt won the NASCAR Talladega race in 1994 on the day that Senna was killed and in victory lane he sent condolences to the Senna family.

The 2001 Daytona 500 also saw Dale Earnhardt encounter a rookie Kurt Busch on lap 86. On lap 86 Kurt Busch made contact with Earnhardt which nearly caused a crash. Both saved it but Earnhardt stuck his hand out the window to give Kurt the profane finger gesture to express displeasure. When Earnhardt died Kurt Busch said that was the first and only time he drove with Earnhardt.

NASCAR implemented rigorous safety improvements, such as making the HANS device mandatory for the race cars. Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt’s death. Some angry Earnhardt fans wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin. In response, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. absolved Marlin of any responsibility.

Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the No. 3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt’s team was re-christened as the No. 29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme – white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.

Childress’ second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick was named as Earnhardt’s replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt’s death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special pennants bearing the No. 3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was soon replaced by the previous GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms. The Earnhardt team car, the RCR number 29 Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick, still always displays the Earnhardt stylized number 3 on the “B” posts (metal portion on each side of the car to the rear of the front windows) above the number 29.

Fans began honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every Daytona 500 race, a black screen of number 3 in the beginning of NASCAR Thunder 2002 before the EA Sports logo, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox and NASCAR on NBC went silent for each third lap from Rockingham to the following year’s race there in honor of Earnhardt. On-track incidents brought out the caution flag on the third lap. Three weeks later, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt had won over Bobby Labonte at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt’s longtime gas man, Danny “Chocolate” Myers, crying after the victory, Harvick’s tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver’s window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip, concluding with “Gordon got loose, but he (Harvick) is gonna get him though, it’s Harvick! Harvick by inches!” are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away. In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500 for DEI in his #8 car, and came 2nd in his first season for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Terry Shwartz, Contributor


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