In 1979, Dale Earnhardt burst into NASCAR racing by winning the rookie of the year honors. The next year he won his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Nobody realized then that Dale Earnhardt would become one of auto racings greatest drivers. In my eyes, he is "THE GREATEST DRIVER OF ALL-TIME". Period! Case closed! Barnone! End of story!
Ralph Dale Earnhardt was born April 29, 1951 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Dale's love for racing began early as he watched his dad, Ralph, prepare and race cars on the local dirt tracks.
Dale began racing Hobby Class cars in his teens while working full-time. He financed his own racing as best he could, many times by borrowing money on Friday and paying it back on Monday with his race winnings.
After his father's death in 1973, Dale continued racing in the Sportsman Division. He made his first asphalt start in 1974. Soon after he made his first NASCAR Winston Cup start in 1975. Dale finished 22nd driving a Dodge for Ed Negre in the World 600 at Charlotte in his debut. Dale made 8 more starts over the next 3 years earning 1 top 5 and 2 top 10's before getting his big break.
Dale's big break came after the 1978 season when Rod Osterlund offered Dale a full-time ride in his #2 Mike Curb Productions Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the 1979 season. Midway through the season while leading at Pocono, Dale blew a tire causing his car to flip several times leaving him with two broken collarbones, a concussion, and severe bruises to the neck and chest. Dale came back after missing 4 races and didn't disappoint by finishing 7th in points with 1 win, 11 top 5's, 17 top 10's in 27 starts and defeating Joe Millikan, Harry Gant, and Terry Labonte for 1979 Rookie of the Year honors. Dale got his first win in his 16th start at Bristol. His first pole came eight races later in his 24th start at Riverside.
In 1980 while still driving for Osterlund Racing, Dale clinched his first Winston Cup championship in the final race of the season by 19 points over Cale Yarborough with 5 wins, 19 top 5's, and 24 top 10's in 31 starts. He was the first and only driver to accomplish winning Rookie of the Year and a championship in succesive years.
As defending champions in 1981, changes in Osterlund Racing were made as the team switched to the Pontiac Grand Prix with sponsorship from Wrangler. More dramatic changes were made in June when the team was sold to Jim Stacy. A month later, Dale quit the team and drove the rest of the season for Richard Childress. Dale finished the season 7th in the points without a win, 9 top 5's, and 17 top 10's in 31 starts.
Encouraged by Childress to find a better ride, Dale drove the #15 Wrangler sponsored Ford Thunderbird for Bud Moore in 1982. Dale's Darlington victory was Ford's only win on the season. The season ended with a career low 12th in points with 1 win, 7 top 5's, and 12 top 10's in 30 starts.
Driving the new Ford Thunderbird for Bud Moore, Dale looked for improvement in 1983. An 8th in points with 2 wins, 9 top 5's, and 14 top 10's in 30 starts didn't sit well with Dale as he began looking at other options for the future.
1984 brought a change that would turn out to be legendary as Dale joined back together with Richard Childress. Dale took over the #3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo as Wrangler followed with sponsorship. Dale finished the year 4th in points with 2 wins, 12 top 5's, and 22 top 10's in 30 starts, during what the pair called a "building year".
The 1985 season saw an 8th in points with 4 wins, 10 top 5's, and 16 top 10's in 28 starts for Dale and the Wrangler team as they dominated the short tracks.
In 1986, after taking the points lead early in the season with strong runs, Dale clinched his second championship and the first with Richard Childress Racing with 1 race left beating Darrell Waltrip by 288 points. Dale finished with 5 wins, 16 top 5's, and 23 top 10's in 29 starts.
Once again the defending champ, Dale was determined to remain at the top in 1987. The #3 Wrangler team's determination to win successive championships was shown by winning six races early in the season. Dale's best single season ever ended with 11 wins, 21 top 5's, and 24 top 10's in 29 starts clinching his third championship by 489 points over Bill Elliot with 2 races left. Dale also set a single season record for total winnings at more than two million dollars.
1988 brought a new sponsor in GM Goodwrench and a new black paint scheme to the RCR #3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Dale. An effort to win three consecutive championships looked like a possibility with an early points lead for Dale. A third straight championship didn't come to be as Dale finished 3rd in the points with 3 wins, 13 top 5's, and 19 top 10's in 29 starts.
In 1989, Chevrolet replaced the Monte Carlo with the new Lumina. Dale and the #3 team had hopes of taking the first year car to a championship. By taking the points lead early in the season, it looked as if that might happen. Unfortunately, 12 points out of the lead, Dale finished 2nd in the points with 5 wins, 14 top 5's, and 19 top 10's in 29 starts.
1990 brought about even more determination from Dale and the #3 team after falling just short losing previous two close points battles. Dale gained the points lead early in the season but bad luck and strong runs by competitors caused him to fall from the top spot. Dale eventually reclaimed the points lead and held on to clinch his fourth championship in the final race beating Mark Martin by 26 points including 9 wins, 18 top 5's, and 23 top 10's in 29 starts. Dale also brought home his first IROC championship in 1990.
As the 1991 season began, Dale showed no signs of letting up on his competitors. The consistency and reliabilty of the GM Goodwrench team proved early that Dale was again the man to beat. All competitors fell short as Dale had 4 wins, 14 top 5's, and 21 top 10's in 29 starts as he clinched his fifth championship by 195 points over Ricky Rudd in the final race.
When the 1992 season rolled around, Dale and his legion of dedicated fans expected another title run. They would be dissapointed, tying a career low of 12th in points with only 1 win, 6 top 5's, and 15 top 10's in 29 starts.
The 1993 season saw Dale and the whole RCR team with a new commitment to excellence to get back to top form. The "Black is Back" slogan proved true as Dale was a contender week in and week out. Dale closed the season's close points battle by clinching his sixth championship in the final race beating Rusty Wallace by 80 points including 6 wins, 17 top 5's, and 21 top 10's in 30 starts.
Dale's goal in 1994 was to tie the record for titles. Once again he was determined and ready for the challenge ahead. His fans weren't disappointed as he accomplished what only one other driver been able to do. With 2 races left Dale clinched his seventh championship over Mark Martin by 444 points including 4 wins, 20 top 5's, and 25 top 10's in 31 starts.
Chevrolet replaced the Lumina with a new Monte Carlo and as several times before, Dale entered the 1995 season as the favorite for the title. Strong runs by the #3 team kept Dale in contention all season. Dale fell just 34 points short of another title by finishing 2nd in the points with 5 wins, 19 top 5's, and 23 top 10's in 31 starts. Dale also won his second IROC championship.
Dale started the 1996 season strong winning 2 of the first 4 races and leading the points. Everything was looking good towards the record breaking title until a severe crash at Talladega left Dale with a broken collarbone and cracked sternum. Although he didn't miss a race, the injuries affected his title run as he lost the points lead. Dale eventually finished 4th in the points with 2 wins, 13 top 5's, and 17 top 10's in 31 starts.
1997 saw Dale trying to rebound from a somewhat down year after sustaining injuries. More of what seemed to be a downfall continued through the year. A scary incident at Darlington happened when Dale blacked out in the car on the final pace lap. Although he was ok, the season was as down one finishing 5th in the points with no wins, 7 top 5's, and 16 top 10's in 32 starts.
The 1998 season started with a BANG as Dale finally won the Daytona 500 after 20 tries in NASCAR's biggest race. The rest of the year was not as good to the #3 team as Dale finished 8th in points with Daytona as his only win with 5 top 5's and 13 top 10's in 33 starts.
After a couple of lean years, many people had written off Dale by the start of the 1999 season, but not his true fans. We always knew he get back to form and kept the faith. Dale and team got back in stride by finishing 7th in the points with 3 wins, 7 top 5's and 21 top 10's in 34 starts. 1999 also saw the first official points race with both Dale Sr and Dale Jr competing in Winston Cup competition. More proof that Dale was still the man was his winning 3 of 4 races on the way to his third IROC championship.
2000 brought even more evidence to hush the nay-sayers about Dale and saw Dale Jr begin racing full-time in Winston Cup. Dale stayed near the top of the point standings all season long. When the battle was over, Dale was 265 points out of the lead finishing 2nd in points with 2 wins, 13 top 5's and 24 top 10's in 34 starts. Proving that ol' Dale still had what it took, he won his fourth IROC championship.
Before the 2001 season started, everyone knew Dale was ready to contend for his record breaking eight championship. Nobody knew of the tears we would shed or the heartache we would all soon feel. On February 18, 2001, while running 3rd on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Dale lost his life when he crashed into the turn 4 wall.
"The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt has 76 career NASCAR Winston Cup victories to his credit, including his greatest triumph in the '98 Daytona 500. Only a handful of drivers have won mutilple Winston Cup championships since NASCAR's inception over 50 years ago. Among those champions, Dale Earnhardt is tied for the most with 7 championship cups.