This past Sunday marked the 61st running of the Daytona 500, and wow, did it deliver. After a number of big wrecks, including a 21-car Big One that went down with only 10 laps to go, Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately cruised into victory lane. Joe Gibbs himself dedicated the victory to his son, J.D. Gibbs, who died back in January at the age of 49 from complications with a degenerative neurological disease. It was an emotional day and one that will go down as one of the more memorable Daytona 500s in recent memory.
Eighteen years ago, on this day, marked another memorable running of the “Great American Race,” albeit a much more tragic one. On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr. lost his life at the 43rd running of the iconic race following a collision with Ken Schrader on the last lap.
Earnhardt’s car slammed into the retaining wall, and he was pronounced dead later that day from a basilar skull fracture. He was 49 years old.
Known as the Intimidator, Earnhardt left an indelible mark on the sport of professional auto racing. With 76 race wins, 428 top-10 finishes, and 22 poles in 676 races run, Earnhardt was a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion, tying for the most all-time with Richard Petty.
Before his untimely death at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt was able to finally snag a Daytona 500 win in 1998. It was an important moment in the Kannapolis, North Carolina native’s career, considering that victory at the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” had eluded him for many years.
If you know anything about NASCAR, you know that the Earnhardts are one of the most well-respected families in the business, and that impressive legacy all traces back to Dale Earnhardt Sr. Of course, there’s two-time Daytona 500 winner and 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who actually finished second place in that fateful 2001 Daytona 500. Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Dale Jr.’s older sister, co-owns JR Motorsports with him.
Kerry Earnhardt, Dale Sr.’s eldest son, had a 10-year NASCAR career, while Kerry’s son, Jeffrey Earnhardt, also races part-time in the Cup Series. For this year’s running of the Daytona 500, Jeffrey sported an epic tribute to his grandpa on his helmet.
Even Dale Sr.’s granddaughter, 18-year-old Karsyn Elledge, has been showing plenty of promise as an up-and-coming driver and just recently kicked off her full-time dirt racing career in early 2019.
So, while Dale Earnhardt’s death is one that rightfully sent shockwaves through the NASCAR community, today, we should look back fondly on his tremendous career and his lasting legacy. Rest in peace, Dale.