In the world of sport, very few people can be singularly identified with a sport like Dale Earnhardt. He was born on April 29, 1951, as Ralph Dale Earnhardt Sr, and had a long successful career. In his career of 27 years, Dale won seven Winston Cup Championship and 76 races. His charisma and controversy made people like him or like hating him. His popularity and the feud with his long-term rival, Jeff Gordon helped NASCAR to robust and thrive to a multi-billion dollar empire.
Dale had racing flowing in blood through his veins. His father, Ralph, was a leading driver on the Southeast dirt track circuit. When Dale was 5, his father won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship. Persuaded by his father not to follow his career, the boy decided to follow the footsteps of his dad rather. He was put to in his father’s shop where he started learning the tricks of the trade.
Building his career and legacy
His love for racing forced Dale to drop out of school, which he later regretted, to work as a welder at a textile mill for his support. At the age of 17, he married and two years later divorced and remarried again. By the age of 22, he had three children he was supporting and was again divorced. His father died in 1973, and he felt he had disappointed him.
In May 1975, Dale made his stock car racing debut in the World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway finishing in position 22. He had established himself as a racer on the short track circuit by 1978. The same year, he met Theresa Houston, who later became his third wife and was instrumental in his career management.
In 1979 NASCAR season, he was hired, inexperienced as he was, by Rod Osterlund and he got his big break in the process. He got named NASCAR’s Rookie of the year in 1979. Later on, Osterlund sold his team, and Dale shifted to drive for Richard Childress Racing. The 1982 season was a real struggle for Dale where he even broke his knee in a collision.
Impressive Wins and Travails
The next season brought good things for Dale. Not until 1986 that he won Winston Cup Championship again. In the same year, he was fined $ 3000 for clipping the rear bumper of Darrel Waltrip, who accused him of intending to kill him. By 1987, he won his third championship and he became known as the Intimidator for his aggressive driving styles.
A sponsorship switch bettered his already good name in 1988.
The early 1990s, Dale was at the peak where he took 4 Winston Cup Series titles. Astonishingly, he took the 4 cups in a five-year period. The second half of the 1990s were all rainy days. He made no victory during that period.
In 1988, things turned around, and Dale won Daytona 500. He later, in 1999, won both races in Talladega. He climbed to number two in the standings when he won two more victories in 2000. His legacy is something racing fans will hold dearly never to forget.