20 years ago today The Intimidator died

Discussion in 'The BS Topic' started by Camarolina, Feb 17, 2021.

  1. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    20 years ago today, February 18th at age 49, Dale Earnhardt died in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500.

    NASCAR has had many different eras separated by cars, safety advancements and point systems. I would attest that Dale Earnhardt was the greatest driver of “The Common Chassis Era”. This is from 1981 to 2006.

    Dale won his first championship in 1980, the last year NASCAR used actual cars straight from the manufacture. In 1981 NASCAR mandated a common chassis and wheel base that the teams would build themselves with sheet metal panels from the car manufactures.

    During this era Earnhardt went from ‘One Tough Customer’ to ‘The Intimidator’ all while becoming NASCAR’s most controversial driver ever. He was either loved or hated.

    Coming from the clay tracks of the Carolina’s, getting parts and tires on loan during the week meant a good finish on the weekend was an imperative. The competition was cut throat and vicious. It was in this crucible that the singularly focused Earnhardt formed his racing demeanor and skill.

    NASCAR writer Ed Hinton recalled a conversation with Dale about his early days.

    His father died in 1973 and after that, Dale was on his own, runnin' dirt for grocery money.

    "I'd borrow money on 90-day notes from the bank just to race and try to pay it back the next week. Family [the second one, with Dale Jr. and daughter Kelley and second wife Brenda] didn't have groceries, and my wife would stand in the doorway with them kids and cry when I'd back out of the driveway haulin' that ol' dirt car.

    "We prob'ly ought to have been on welfare. People kept tellin' me, 'Boy, you better git you a real job and quit that ol' racin'."

    One night at Cherokee Speedway in South Carolina, third place paid enough for grocery money, and fourth place didn't.

    "So ol' Stick Elliott's runnin' third and I'm fourth, and I ease on up behind him and hook his back bumper and turn him around just as pretty as you please. He spins out and I go on and finish third. Got back in the pits, getting out of the car, somebody come runnin', told me Tommy [one of Elliott's crewmen] was comin' with a pistol.

    "I took off runnin' out of the pits, ran across the track, jumped over the fence and ran off. Next Friday night at the drivers meetin', I'm standing there and here comes ol' Stick right up beside me and here come his boys with him, and I'm thinkin', 'Ohhhhhhhh, hell . . .'

    "And Stick turns to me and grins and he says, 'You know what, boy? You just might make a driver yet.'"

    "No, sir. All these people [other drivers] screamin', cryin', hollerin' about me, hell, they ain't ever seen the kind of hard racin' I've had to do in my lifetime, just to survive."

    Dale always remembered how hard he had it coming up. Early in his Cup career he had great success. Almost overnight Dale had money, he had made it.


    Ed Hinton recalled a truck ride with Dale.

    Riding in a four-wheel-drive truck through the mud on his sprawling property and down onto a dirt road, winding into the woods, and in a clearing stand four or five hardscrabble farmers, his neighbors.

    The land all around them is washed and rutted with the recent North C'lina floods, and the men have those blank looks on their faces farmers get when their crops are devastated and they are distraught with those hollow looks.

    "Stay in the truck, Hinton."

    He wants to talk with them quietly. He doesn't want to embarrass them, doesn't want them to think I hear the conversation. But I hear snippets.

    Their crops have been washed away.

    "Y'all be ready to plant when I get that seed to you," he says.

    They mumble some sort of protests.

    "Don't worry about it!" he growls. "Just don't ask no questions. Just y'all have them damn tractors ready to roll when that seed gets here."

    Later, I will learn that the seed he sends them, at his expense, is measured in tons of tons.


    Ed Hinton recalls another truck ride with Dale.

    Four-wheel-drive again, another country highway, 70 mph at least, whoom! Hard right turn onto a rutted dirt road.

    "Earnhardt, what the -- "

    "Gotta go see Schrader, man."

    Sometime in the '80s, and Kenny Schrader is struggling up into NASCAR almost by his fingernails, off the hard-bitten dirt tracks of Missouri, and the truck pulls up by a mobile home sitting out in a field in North C'lina with several old beat-up dirt-track cars occupying what passes for a yard.

    Earnhardt sits in a folding chair and just hangs, letting the struggling driver know Earnhardt is there if he is needed.

    Earnhardt always helps the strugglers. Soon he'll give an unknown California vagabond named Ernie Irvan a car and enough money to outfit it for his first Winston Cup race.

    Earnhardt never lets a struggler fall by the wayside. Earnhardt came up too hard himself. He has never forgotten.

    And he will never forget -- right up until the day he dies, on the last turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, he will never forget.

    Even as he dies instantly against the turn 4 wall, another driver, up ahead, Michael Waltrip, a hard-luck guy all his life, suddenly with a break, suddenly in a Dale Earnhardt-owned race car, the first great ride of his career, is taking the checkered flag.



    For me, in that black #3 car, Earnhardt was the real deal. He earned my fanship because every Sunday I knew he would be on the track, driving his ass off, singularly focused on winning. If not winning then scratching out the best finish he could for the long game of the points race. The Man in Black was infinitely talented, hard charging and sometimes a rough riding ruthless competitor. He could be a surgeon with a scalpel or an axe murderer. He did things on the race track no other driver could or would. His attitude at any given moment showed through his car. It was an extension of him.

    At my work, more often than not, Earnhardt would back up my racing sh!t-talk during the week. Monday mornings could be a lot of fun.




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    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
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  2. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    2 1979.jpg
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  3. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    10 1982-4-4 Darlington Win.jpg
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  4. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    19 1985-9-22 Martinsville Win.jpg
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    1986 during the closing laps of a race at Richmond a car in front of Dale went off the track and splashed mud from earlier rain showers onto Dale's car. His windshield had mud on it right where he needed to see through. The caution came out and Dale wanted to pit. Richard Childress told him to stay out and save the track position. Dale said he was going to be off the radio for a minute.

    Next thing you know Dale unbuckled, squeezes out his side window and steering with his knee, starts cleaning his own windshield with his sleeve. Nobody could believe what they were seeing.

    Dale finished clearing enough mud to see, not losing any positions he squeezed back into his car. Nascar officials quickly got on the radio to Dale's pit and said, "Tell him not to do that again!”


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  5. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    30 1986 Champ.jpg
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    1987 The Winston (All-Star Race) at Charlotte. The Pass in the Grass. No pass was made. More like just passing through the grass.
    Right after this Dale leans on Bill Elliott and cuts down his left side tire. After the race Elliott’s face was redder than his hair and you never seen him so mad.

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    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
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  6. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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  7. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    This is the 1995 Bristol race. Dale was pouring it on and Terry Labonte was in the lead. Coming to the checkers Terry blocks the hell out of Dale and wrecks himself just to get to the line first. (Terry's recollection)
    That #5 car was pushed to victory lane all smashed nosed with steam still spewing out of it.

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    Last edited: Feb 20, 2021
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  8. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    In his last controversial move he turned Terry Labonte for the win in the 1999 Bristol night race.

    He famously said in victory lane that he didn’t mean to wreck him. He just wanted to rattle his cage.

    At the next race the press was all in a tizzy. They cornered Terry Labonte and were imploring him to say he would get revenge on Earnhardt and wreck him as soon as he could. Terry’s answer left them dumbfounded.

    “Nah. Next time we go hunting together I’ll just shoot his horse out from under him and make him walk home.”
     
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  9. Camarolina

    Camarolina Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    62 2000-3-12 Atlanta win.jpg
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    The day after Earnhardt's last win at Talladega he did a promotion on Fort Bragg NC. I got off work at lunch and me, the wife and my oldest son, who was 3 1/2 at the time, went to see him. The crowd was hyped and he was in a real good mood. He did a little Q & A and talked about the promotion. After that he said he was going to the PX to sign autographs. It was a stampede across the parking lot. I pulled my son off my shoulders and threw him at the wife and I ran too. I got him to autograph a race card I brought with me hoping he might do autographs. To this day it is still the only autograph I own from anyone.

    Picture from an article in The Fayetteville Observer. See, there we are circled.
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    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  10. John Wright

    John Wright Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    Miss that ole rascal. I doubt NASCAR would be in the miserable shape it's in now, if he were still around. RIP #3
     
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