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Dale Earnhardt: "The Intimidator" of Stock Car Racing

Dale Earnhardt: "The Intimidator" of Stock Car Racing

One of the fiercest drivers in NASCAR history, but a real gentleman outside the track, Dale Earnhardt was one of the most legendary American race car drivers ever.  

He was also probably NASCAR's first "people's champion", becoming a real superstar mainly because of his aggressive driving style and off-track attitude.   

Unlike other stock car drivers from his time, he didn't have the average low-profile characteristic, instead making his driving as spectacular as possible and establishing a lasting relationship with his fans and spectators.  

Dale's fans even started giving him wrestling or monster truck-like nicknames. Ironhead, Mr. Restrictor Plate, The Man in Black and most famously, "The Intimidator," were all Earnhardt's monikers at a given moment in his career. 

The early days  

Dale was born on April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His parents were Martha Coleman and Ralph Earnhardt, who was a short-track driver in the same state. In his teens, Dale would sit and carefully look at his father building dirt track cars in the family garage. He was alongside Earnhardt Sr. at his every single race, dreaming that one day he would himself rip the tarmac with a race car.   

He married his first wife when he was just 17, in 1968, with Latane Key. She gave birth to Earnhardt's first son, Kerry, a year later. The marriage didn't last long and subsequently, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee, in 1971.   

The daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee, Brenda gave birth to a girl in 1972 and Earnhardt's second son, Dale Jr. in 1974. Soon after Dale Jr. was born, Dale Sr. also divorced his second spouse and married Teresa, to which he remained tied until his death, in 2001. Little did they know back then that Dale Jr. would also follow in the footsteps of his father.  

Racing history  

When his father succumbed from a heart attack in 1973, Dale was filled with sorrow, but this made him even more determined to continue the racing legacy of his family.   

He had begun racing on local circuits from North Carolina, borrowing all the money he needed and hoping to win enough in order to pay off his debts. From 1975 until 1979 he managed to compete in nine Winston Cup races until he finally caught a break from team owner Rod Osterlund, who offered him a car to compete in a whole season.   

After starting in 27 races that season, Dale had 11 top five and 17 top ten finishes, winning the “Rookie of the Year” award. He did all this despite not attending four races because of a broken collarbone.  

In 1980, after a fierce battle that lasted the whole season with Cale Yarborough, Dale managed to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. Unfortunately (or not), Rod Osterlund sold his team in the middle of the next season, which displeased Earnhardt, making him leave at Richard Childress' team.   

Apparently, this wasn't exactly his best option, since Childress' cars weren't good enough for Dale's extraordinary driving ability. Richard himself then urged Dale to leave for a better team until he would rebuild his own ailing team.   

“The Intimidator” subsequently left for two seasons with the Bud Moore Racing team, driving their Fords to victory once at Darlington in 1982 and twice in 1983, at Nashville and Talladega.

Childress partnership   

After two years, Dale returned to the reborn and much more competitive Richard Childress Racing team, at which he remained until his death. Over the next 18 years, he and Richard cemented both a professional and a friendship relationship which could only be equaled by Paul Newman and Carl Haas in the world of motorsport.   

The Earnhardt/Childress combination managed to win no less than six NASCAR Winston Cup Championships. With a total of seven championship titles during his lifetime, Dale equaled Richard Petty's record.   In spite of the number of wins, NASCAR's crown jewel, the Daytona 500, had always eluded him. He only managed to win it at his 21st attempt, in 1998, making it the 71st win of his career.   

He always stated that this was probably the best win in his entire career, although his line of successes wasn't over after it. Still, in a weird twist of fate, it was the Daytona 500 race that put an end to his life in 2001.   

After a race on which he was about to finish third behind Michael Waltrip and his own son, Dale Jr, Earnhardt's car made slight contact with Sterling Marlin's front bumper, which caused Dale to slide into the outside wall, along with Ken Schrader's Pontiac.   

Although it first appeared to be a minor and undramatic accident, Earnhardt was rapidly taken to the hospital, and, hours later it was announced that he had passed away. Having won almost every title available to a NASCAR driver, his persona will be forever remembered as one of the most people-friendly champions in the history of motorsport.

 
 
 
 
 

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