Earnhardt was the most popular driver
in NASCAR history
, thanks in large part to the aggressive driving style that earned him the nickname “The Intimidator.”
In his career, Earnhardt won 76 races and 7 Winston Cup Championships, tying him with Richard Petty
for the most championships of all time. He died, poetically, on February 18, 2001, in the last turn on the last lap of the Daytona 500
Ralph Dale Earnhardt was born on April 29, 1951 in Kannapolis, North Carolina, to Ralph Lee Earnhardt
and Martha Coleman. His father was one of the early stars of NASCAR, and was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers
. Born into the racing world, young Dale wanted very much to follow in his father's footsteps and dropped out of school at age 16 to pursue racing, much to his father’s dismay.
Earnhardt’s early career was marked by struggles to find the money to race and raise his family, which included a son, Kerry, who would go on to have mediocre success as a NASCAR driver. Ralph Earnhardt died of a heart attack in 1973, at age 45, and the death was said to have deeply affected Dale, and served as a motivation for him to succeed on the track just as his father had.
Earnhardt began his Winston Cup career in 1975, finishing 22nd in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
in a car owned by Ed Negre. He competed sporadically in Winston Cup races until 1979, when he got his first full-time ride driving for owner Rod Osterlund.
1979 would prove to be Earnhardt’s breakout year in NASCAR, as he captured Rookie of the Year
honors, won his first race on April 1st at Bristol Motor Speedway
, and finished seventh in the standings, despite missing four races after breaking his collarbone in a race at Pocono Raceway