Feb. 15, 1998 -- Dale Earnhardt was first -- at last. The winner of seven Winston Cup championships, he was 0-for-19 at the Daytona 500. But that losing streak ended today when he won NASCAR's most prestigious event before 185,000 screaming fans.
Earnhardt led five times for 107 of the 200 laps, but the victory wasn't assured until lap 199 when the caution flag was brought out after John Andretti and Lake Speed tangled. Earnhardt averaged 172.712 mph and earned a record $1,059,105 as he ended his 59-race winless streak.
|Dale Earnhardt won his first Daytona 500 in 20 tries on Feb. 15, 1998.|
Earnhardt savored his triumph. He took a slow drive to Victory Lane, shaking hands and slapping high fives with dozens of crewmen from competing teams who lined pit road at Daytona International.
Halfway down pit road, Earnhardt, 46, rode his black No. 3 Chevrolet onto the tri-oval grass, between the pit lane and the front straight, etching a number three in the grass with a couple of joyous donuts.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" Earnhardt shouted before hugging crew chief Larry McReynolds. "We won it! We won it! We won it!"
Odds 'n' EndsHis father Ralph's nickname was "Ironheart." Dale's nickname "Ironhead" was a spin off.
Earnhardt's son Dale Jr. is his second child from his second marriage, to Brenda Gee. The younger Earnhardt races on the Winston Cup Circuit and his older half-brother, Kerry, occasionally races on the Busch circuit.
Earnhardt's daughter from his second marriage, Kelley, drove late models.
Early in his career -- when he was strapped for cash -- Earnhardt sometimes borrowed money from fellow racers, banking that he would win enough that weekend to pay them back.
In his second Grand National start, in 1978, Earnhardt's Chevy flipped five times during the Dixie 500 at Atlanta International Speedway. He walked away with only a minor cut on his hand.
Earnhardt collected $19,800 for his first Grand National win, in the 1979 Southeastern 500 at the Bristol (Tenn.) International Speedway.
He won the pole 22 times in his career.
His 676 career races rank seventh among Winston Cup drivers.
In 1982, Earnhardt married his third wife, Teresa, who later became CEO of Dale Earnhardt Inc. The company grew to employ 200 people and field three cars on NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit.
Dale and Teresa had one child, Taylor Nicole, in 1988.
He fractured a knee in a crash at Talladega in 1982, but didn't miss a race.
In 1984, Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd swapped rides. Earnhardt joined owner Richard Childress and Rudd moved to owner Bud Moore's team.
Rusty Wallace beat Earnhardt by 12 points for the 1989 Winston Cup title.
Earnhardt's first pole at the Daytona 500 came in 1996.
He became the third driver to start 500 consecutive Winston Cup races.
Earnhardt finished the 1997 Daytona 500 although he was taken to an ambulance after his car had flipped in the backstretch of the speedway. Frustrated, he left the ambulance, returned to his car and crossed the finish line.
In 1997, he became the first race car driver to appear on a Wheaties box.
That year he also became the first driver to reach $30 million in American motor sports earnings.
After winning the Daytona 500, he became the first driver to address the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
In 1999 he underwent back surgery, forcing him to stay out of his car for six weeks, the longest absence of his career.
He flew to his races in a private jet.
Earnhardt made 34 starts in both 1999 and 2000, the highest totals of his career.
He won 34 races at Daytona International Speedway, more than any other NASCAR driver.
He won a record four Winston 500s and three Coca-Cola 600s and Pepsi Southern 500s.
Earnhardt was part-owner of a minor league baseball team in the South Atlantic League that became the Kannapolis Intimidators.
He owned seats on both the New York and American Stock Exchange.
In his final race, Earnhardt was credited with 12th place at the 2001 Daytona 500. Michael Waltrip won and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. Earnhardt owned both cars.
After a 6-month investigation, NASCAR announced that Earnhardt's death was caused in part by a broken lap belt. The belt manufacturer refuted the findings.
In October 2001 -- eight months after his death -- NASCAR mandated that all drivers be required to wear some form of head and neck restraint.