2000 SPRINT ALL-STAR RACE
Earnhardt formed his own race team in 1996. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the 2000 Sprint All-Star Race as a rookie driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and says that race was nearly as big to his father as the Daytona 500 victory was.
“That win still is the favorite moment of my career – being in Victory Lane with my dad,” says Jr. “The wins
I'd had before, he'd come in, shake everybody's hand and take off. That was the only Victory Lane that he stood in the entire time, for the whole half-hour or 45 minutes we were there. He was talking to his brother, Danny, and the guys on the team.
“He was really enjoying not only the father-son relationship, but I think also the fact that he had built a team that was the winner of the All-Star race.
“That was a race and a format that Dad really admired. It meant the most to him,” Earnhardt Jr. continues. “It was right up there with winning the 500. I think winning it as a car owner was something he never really imagined, so that was pretty cool to see him enjoy that moment that night.”
THE FINAL VICTORY
The scene was Talladega Superspeedway, and the date was Oct. 15, 2000. With four laps to go, Earnhardt was buried way back in 18th place, having just bounced off of Rich Bickle's car and seemingly trapped in a sea of racecars on all four sides of him, surrounding the black No. 3.
But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Earnhardt charged forward, parting the field like Moses parting the Red Sea, and with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek behind him, Earnhardt charged forward. He crossed the line the winner, claiming the $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus money in addition to his race earnings.
It was a display of shock and awe perhaps never equaled in a Cup race, one that left the fans dazed and delighted in their disbelief. The noise from the grandstands was deafening as Earnhardt crossed the start-finish line.
2001 DAYTONA 500
The final lap of the Daytona 500 was something no one would believe if it were a movie script: Last lap. Michael Waltrip, who is 0-462 in career Sprint Cup starts, leads in a DEI Chevrolet. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second, with Dale Earnhardt Sr. third. Just as Waltrip gets ready to take the checkered flag. Earnhardt gets loose in Turn 4, is tapped by Sterling Marlin, slides up the hill, where he's hit by Ken Schrader and then slams into the outside wall, perishing in the crash.
Yet in death, Earnhardt's legend and influence continue to grow, even as the likelihood of anyone ever really replacing him in the garage diminishes with each passing year.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the March 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.