It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since the black number three Goodwrench Chevrolet piloted by Dale Earnhardt has been on the race track. In fact at next year’s Daytona 500 it will mark the tenth anniversary of the legendary racer’s untimely death on the last turn of the lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt began his racing life the way he began his normal life; very modestly. Growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina Earnhardt got into racing as it was second nature to him. After all his father Ralph was a local legend and pretty popular in the southland as well. When his father abruptly died of a heart attack Earnhardt’s passion only burned hotter to become a racing success.
Sacrificing his job and his first two marriages Earnhardt went anywhere they had racing and spent every last cent he had (and some that he had borrowed) just to race whenever he could. Just when it seemed that he may never catch a break he got a call.
The call came from car owner Ed Nerge and the legend got his first start in the 1975 World 600 race driving the number eight Dodge. He didn’t show much of the flashes of brilliance that he would later show but he finished the race in a solid 22nd place which ironically was one place ahead of the man who would be his future car owner and good friend Richard Childress.
Earnhardt competed off and on in eight more races until 1979 when he got a full ride with Rod Osterlund Racing. His rookie season would see him finish 7th in the Winston Cup points standings and he went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. In 1980, which was just his second year in full time racing, he won his first championship.
However Earnhardt’s story and really his whole legacy didn’t start until 1983 when he would go drive for Richard Childress in the now famous number three and the two would make history. In his time with Childress he won six more titles which gave him seven overall (tied with Richard Petty for the most all time). As his skills improved and the wins poured in he would be dubbed the “Intimidator” as he was a very aggressive driver. More importantly though the 1983 move represented the only car that Earnhardt would drive until his death; a Chevy.
Over the years Earnhardt would become a spokesman for General Motors (GM) and Chevy and in 1988 Earnhardt had a new sponsor to replace his long time sponsor Wrangler Jeans. On the number three was GM Goodwrench. The sponsor and the black color would remain until Earnhardt’s death and would earn him nicknames such as the “Man in Black.”
Earnhardt loved the Chevy brand and even raced in the number three Chevy Racing Corvette with his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. as one of his teammates in the 2001 24 Hours of Daytona. That race would prove to be very special for Earnhardt Jr. as he would tragically lose his father just a few short weeks later in the Daytona 500.
The Intimidator won 76 races in his career and most of those came in a Chevy. His love for the brand rubbed off on his son as Earnhardt Jr. still races a Chevy and when he recently left the company that his father built he said he would only talk to teams that ran the bowtie.
While he is still missed on the track to this day, Earnhardt is still remembered as well. Because of his untimely death NASCAR totally re-vamped their safety measures and there is no telling how many lives have been saved as a result of one legend’s death. While he may be gone from the Earth, this Chevy racing icon will continue to live forever in the hearts of true racing fans everywhere.