Earnhardt, By Any Name, Is NASCAR Hall Of Fame Material (Note: This is the fifth and final weekly release on the five inaugural inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in Charlotte, N.C. The induction ceremony is scheduled for the afternoon of...
Earnhardt, By Any Name, Is NASCAR Hall Of Fame Material
(Note: This is the fifth and final weekly release on the five inaugural inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in Charlotte, N.C. The induction ceremony is scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday, May 23. Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are the inductees. This installment spotlights seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 12, 2010) -- Dale Earnhardt? The guy was so good he needed two nicknames to define his influence in the rough-and-sometimes-tumbling world of stock car racing.
From "Ironhead" to "The Intimidator" ... from a nondescript beginning to a legendary career punctuated by a tragic ending ... to inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. Such is the path walked and driven by the late Dale Earnhardt.
Is he NASCAR's greatest driver of all-time? There's a debate worthy of being re-fired this month, especially since Earnhardt and Richard Petty -- both seven-time champions of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- are entering the hall on May 23 along with Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.
As if such debate really matters. But since we're on the subject, examine Earnhardt's statistics beyond the career-defining accumulation of series championships.
* 76 victories.
* Three-time winner of back-to-back championships.
* All-time leader in race wins at Daytona International Speedway, with 34.
* 14-year span between first and last championship (1980-94)
* Three-time winner of NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
* 1998 Daytona 500 champion.
Early in his career, plying his trade on Southeastern short tracks, the Kannapolis, N.C. native was racing, first and foremost, to put food on the table for his family. Call it the ultimate motivation that sometimes bordered on desperation. And that's the way he drove, a style that didn't always pay dividends -- or win friends.
But it was a style he honed through the years. Eventually Earnhardt became a skillful hard-charger, adjusting his hard-headed -- and hard-hearted -- on-track tendencies to fit the sensibilities of NASCAR's premier series. He knew how to wreck you. But he also knew when to settle for a top-five finish.
Mainly, though, he raced to win. Example: Forty-four of his 76 victories came during his seven championship seasons. His best year was 1987; 11 victories and 24 top 10s in his 29 starts.
His first and only victory in the Daytona 500, coming after 19 unsuccessful attempts, was perhaps the most memorable moment of his career. After taking the checkered flag, Earnhardt's pit-road route to Victory Lane was lined by crew members from all the other teams who came out to congratulate him, as he rolled by in his jet-black No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet -- arguably the most famous ride in NASCAR history.
Three years later, Earnhardt would die after a last-lap crash at Daytona, making memories of 1998 all the more special -- and poignant.
Now, those memories of Earnhardt, and others, will live forever, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.