by Jonathan Ingram
To imagine the steel-blue eyes behind the trademark shades, to see the mischevious grin accentuated by the bristly mustache was to realize this man truly loved what he did, no regrets. In words and full color photographs, this book celebrates the man and the champion.
As long as these types of cars are raced on Saturday night short tracks and superspeedways, the legend of Earnhardt will live on. Long after that day when his uncompromising will to dominate NASCAR’s premier Winston Cup series led to a fatal crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500, the name Earnhardt will evoke feelings of triumph and gritty majesty, especially among the hard-working fans who saw him as one of their own.
Blue Collar Dreams
But words were scarce and sometimes scarcely grammatical from the quiet boy who would one day dub short track action in the Winston Cup as “frammin’ and bammin’.” When it came to instruction in school, the eagerness disappeared. Much against his father’s wishes but like many other 16-year-olds in Kannapolis, Dale quit school in ninth grade at the earliest legal age. Only he vowed to never work in the mills. He was preparing to be a race car driver.
Ragged Road to Riches
Due to his tire and engine bills escalating on the asphalt short tracks, Earnhardt spent the next two years working odd jobs, fighting debt and the effects of a second divorce as well as a wreck in Asheville, N.C. that totaled his car. At times, Earnhardt seemed wild in his sorrow over the death of his father, which only re-doubled his ambition to make it to the top.
Rookie Season: A Bruised Heart
Earnhardt, who would miss four races while David Pearson substituted for him, recognized that out of sight was out of mind and perhaps out of a job. A press conference was arranged prior to the next race at Talladega. But it was conducted by telephone so reporters would not recognize the extent of his injuries. “They said I bruised my heart,” he joked. “Heck, I’ve had a broken heart before. I’ll get over it.”
Broken Homes, Victory Lane
But once again the financial demands of racing scuttled the relationship. Earnhardt divorced a second time and again the destiny of his children was in doubt, which rankled him and often left him moody. It was not until after he won the first Winston Cup championship in 1980 that Earnhardt gained custody rights to Kelly and Dale Jr.
‘I’m Always In A Hurry’
The plates put an emphasis on aerodynamic drafting and close quarter racing, which favored Earnhardt. He had more victories at those two tracks than any other driver.
He held his greatest affection for those who took his methods in their stride and pushed back, such as Gordon. En route to his first Daytona 500 victory, Gordon put Earnhardt’s Chevy on its roof in Turn 2. “Was I scared?” said Earnhardt, who would come back to win the race the following year. “I’ve never been scared in a race car.”
The Last Daytona 500
At the end of the back straight, Schrader made a bid to pass on the high side of Earnhardt again at Turn 3, Marlin took the low route and the Ford of Rusty Wallace pulled up close to the rear of Earnhardt’s Chevy. Still fighting the broken air dam, on worn tires now and without any drafting help, the black No. 3 was surrounded by faster adversaries and turbulent air.