2001 Season

Dale Earnhardt: The best there is; the best there was; the best there ever will be
By John Nassif (Maverick)

(October 21, 2001)
    “His nickname was positively perfect. Just as Ervin Johnson was Magic; Walter Payton was Sweetness; and Muhammad Ali the greatest; Dale Earnhardt was auto racing’s Intimidator.” This was well put by a journalist who covered the story of the tragic death of an American Legend. February 18th, 2001 will be a day that will live on forever in the hearts of racing fans around the world. It was the end of an era. Our hero was taken from us on this day that should have been surrounded with excitement, cheering, and happiness. The day was just that at the beginning. But by the end of this day, the whole country would be in mourning, for Camelot had lost one of its Black Knights. And he was not any Knight, but the head of the Round Table. This man was Dale Earnhardt, and he was a legend among men. When it came to driving a racecar, no one did it like Dale Earnhardt. Dale ruled over the NASCAR community for over 20 years, doing things that nobody else could. Dale will forever be the template that future drivers are measured against and molded after for he was the person everyone wanted to be like. Beyond his ability and life at the track, Dale was an even better person off the track with his family, friends, and fans. For all these reasons, Dale Earnhardt will forever be remembered as the greatest driver that the auto racing world has ever seen.

    Dale Earnhardt served as Ruler over the NASCAR world. Just as his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it, “He roams like a lion, king of his jungle. His jungle is his and his alone. Every step he takes has purpose. Every walk has reason.” Dale was “the man” when it came to stockcar auto racing. He did things on the racetrack that others thought were impossible. “Dale would go up in the gray areas; up where the angels feared to tread,” said “Humpy” Wheeler, the owner of Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Dale would drive deeper in the corners than anyone, and never shied away from making the racing 3 or 4 wide, even if there wasn’t enough racetrack to support 2 wide racing. “He could do things with a race car that you didn’t think anybody could do. There was a time when you could see a 20-car pileup and, if just one car made it through, it was the one Earnhardt was driving. He was the last cowboy,” said fellow driver Kyle Petty. When it came to super-speedways, and the “draft”, Dale was said to be able to “see the air”. He mastered restrictor-plate racing and was even nicknamed “Mr. Restrictor Plate”. 76 times he took his famed stockcar into Victory Lane in points-paying Winston Cup races. Those victories earned him 7 championships, which he holds the record for, tied only with Richard Petty. Dale won 6 championships in 9 years, which is a feat unequaled by anyone to ever strap into a racecar. He obtained 34 victories at the birthplace of speed, Daytona International Speedway, which is yet another record to which Earnhardt is the lone beholder. Perhaps his biggest feat is that he is the only driver in NASCAR history to win the Rookie of the Year honors and the Winston Cup title in back-to-back seasons. The list of Dale Earnhardt’s accomplishments goes on and on, and even includes him being the only NASCAR driver to grace the cover of a Wheaties box. If you were to ask anyone who the greatest driver of all time is, the smart money is on Dale Earnhardt.

    Drivers today have all admitted to modeling themselves after The Man In Black. When NASCAR was just starting to get popular, it was Earnhardt at the fore-front: bumping people out of his way in pre-intimidator fashion, and taking his blue and yellow Wrangler cars into Victory Lane. Present drivers state that they were inspired to get themselves into racing by watching a young Dale tear up the asphalt and win races where-ever he went. They wanted to be like him. When they got their chance to be in racing, it is him who they were measured against, and will continue to be compared to in years to come. If Dale wouldn’t do it, chances are nobody else would. If Dale couldn’t do it, nobody else could. "He was what we are all trying to be on the race track and he was what we would like to be off the track, too,” said driver Mike Wallace just after Dale’s death. Dale was someone who people could talk to and be your best friend off the track, but when he got on the track make no mistake. It was no longer Dale Earnhardt you were racing, it was The Intimidator. Drivers knew off the track that they could come to him whenever they had questions on the cars or the tracks and what made him so great is that he had the answers. He knew how to dominate NASCAR. If there was anything he didn’t know when it came to those cars, good luck finding someone who did. Every driver wants to be Dale Earnhardt. So in the pre-stages of the Michael Jordan era, it wasn’t “I wanna be like Mike” that drivers were saying, it was “I wanna be like Dale”.

    Dale was a different person off the track than he was on the track, and always had time for everybody. Very few got to see this other side of him as not all got to know him personally. But those who did can only sing praises. Dale had a special relationship with his family and friends, but most of all with his fans. He spent countless hours devoted to charities and making personal appearances just so his fans could interact with him. He never lost touch of where he came from and always remembered where his roots were. To his family, he was a loving father and husband who they could count on for anything. To his friends, he was a companion and a competitor who knew that there were two sides of Dale Earnhardt. On the track he would give you 210% each and every day as a competitor, and off the track he would give you 210% each and every day as a person. Away from the track he was the most caring individual you could meet. His fans could never ask too much of him. One time, while staying at an autograph session for over 4 hours with a line of hundreds of fans, Dale knew he was running late and needed to get to the track. While making his way past the crowd, he noticed a pregnant woman who had been standing out in the cold the whole time waiting for his autograph. She simply said, “My husband’s birthday is coming up, and the baby is going to be due soon, and all I wanted to get him was your autograph”. Dale cocked a little smile at the woman, and proceeded to take off his jacket and his hat and put them on the woman. He simply patted her bulging stomach and said, “Say Happy Birthday to your husband for me, and good luck with the baby”. That was Dale Earnhardt.

    In closing, Dale Earnhardt was a legend in full. He was King of the NASCAR world for over 2 decades. He walked taller than anyone else and drove faster. He lived for racing and died the way that his true fans believe he would have wanted: foot to the floor, last lap, last turn, at his favorite track, in his favorite race. Dale was always the man who would put on the show. Many a time, drivers felt his intimidating “love tap”, which sent them reeling to keep their cars in a straight line, and they usually ended up in the wall and out of commission. Fans all around either loved him or loved to hate him but what made him so great is that he either made you stand up and cheer or stand up and boo. He would always get a response. And perhaps his biggest crowd response came when he left us, all too soon. Fans watched in utter astonishment as they learned that NASCAR’s Man In Black was no longer with us. He may have rode around on 800 horsepower, taking that jet black machine into Victory Lane numerous times, but on the day of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt rode his black stallion off into the sunset, and will forever be remembered as a true competitor, a model champion and person, and a loving and caring relative and friend. In a sport where very few drivers make a significant mark on the sport or even get remembered, Dale Earnhardt left his mark in the form of burnt rubber upon the pavement. As a representative from Citgo stated after the death of our hero, “Sometimes a sport makes a man great. Every once in a while, a man makes a sport great”. That, was Dale Earnhardt.


John Nassif can be contacted at maverick3800@hotmail.com


T h e   E a r n h a r d t   C o n n e c t i o n
Home Page  |  Contact Us