Dale Earnhardt biography
Dale Earnhardt was born on April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. He drove in NASCAR's top division and was the first driver to win Rookie of the Year and the championship back-to-back. In total, Earnhardt -- known as "The Intimidator" for his aggressive driving -- won seven Winston Cup Championships and broke $30 million in career earnings. He died in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.
Nascar racer Ralph Dale Earnhardt was born on April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His father, Ralph Earnhardt, was a well-known racecar driver, and Dale Earnhardt began racing himself on the local tracks at the age of 15. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade to race full-time and work as a mechanic.
In 1973, Ralph Earnhardt died of a heart attack at the racetrack while working on his car. Two years later, in May 1975, his son made his own stock car racing debut, finishing 22nd in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
An Impressive Start
In 1978, Earnhardt's racing caught the attention of Rod Osterlund, a racing sponsor based in California. After a tryout, Earnhardt was signed to his first full-time Winston Cup contract as Osterlund's only sponsored driver in 1979. That year, Earnhardt racked up his first win on the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuit at the Southeastern 500 in Bristol, Tennessee. By the end of the racing season, he had become the first driver to win over $200,000 in his rookie year; he was rewarded with NASCAR's prestigious Rookie of the Year honors.
The next year proved to be even bigger for Earnhardt, as he won his first NASCAR season points championship, or Winston Cup Championship, barely edging out the veteran driver Cale Yarborough. With the win, Earnhardt became the first driver ever to win Rookie of the Year and the season championship back-to-back.
Continuing Success on the Track
After five solid years with Osterlund (although he didn't win another championship), Earnhardt joined Richard Childress' Chevrolet team in 1984. His career took off, beginning with five wins and a second Winston Cup Championship in 1986. The next year saw Earnhardt's best results yet, as he won 11 races and a third championship title, finishing in the top five in 21 out of 29 races.
Despite his undeniable success, Earnhardt earned a reputation early on for recklessness. Known as "the Intimidator," he was particularly prone to aggressively bumping other drivers out of the way in order to take the lead in a particularly close race. After a warning from the president of NASCAR in 1987, Earnhardt cleaned up his act and began developing better relationships with other drivers on the circuit.
His success on the track continued, as he won his fourth Winston Cup Championship in 1990, earning a then-record $3,083,056 in winnings. In 1991, he took home yet another title. The streak was broken in 1992 after a series of mechanical failures, but Earnhardt bounced back the following year to win a sixth Winston Cup.
With a win at the AC Delco 500 in his home state of North Carolina in 1994, Earnhardt won his seventh Winston Cup Championship, tying the legendary Richard Petty for most career titles.
For the third time in five years, he topped the $3 million mark in earnings, and was indisputably the king of stock car racing.
The records kept on falling for Earnhardt throughout the 1990s, although he failed to win another Winston Cup. In 1996, he became the first driver to start in 500 consecutive Winston Cup races. The following year, Earnhardt broke $30 million in career earnings, the most ever for a racecar driver.
The only major victory that had eluded Earnhardt up until that point was the crown jewel of stock car racing, the Daytona 500, held in Daytona, Florida. He had finished second in the race four times, missing wins by devastatingly thin margins in 1990, 1991 and 1995.
He survived a harrowing crash in 1997, only to return in fine form in February 1998, when he won his first Daytona in 20 career starts, breaking a dismal string of 59-straight losses overall. He finished eighth in points that season for his 18th top 10 finish in his 20-year career.
Earnhardt had two sons, Dale Jr. and Kerry (both of whom are also drivers), and a daughter, Kelly, from his first two marriages. He married his third wife, Teresa, in 1982, with whom he had another daughter, Taylor. The family lived on a farm in North Carolina. Known by the nicknames "the Man in Black" and "Ironhead" as well as "the Intimidator," Earnhardt was beloved by fans as the self-promoted "bad boy" of NASCAR racing. He died on February 18, 2001, after crashing his stock car on the last turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500.