Dale Earnhardt's Greatest Hits
By Matt McLaughlin - Speedworld
(Aug. 31, 1999)
I've been caught a little off guard by some fans
shocked reaction that Dale Earnhardt spun out Terry Labonte to get the win Saturday night
at Bristol. Honestly, folks, Earnhardt all but has a trademark on that move. During the
80s other Winston Cup drivers even referred to shoving a competitor out of the way as
"Earnhardting him." I'd suppose the people who are most shocked are the newer
fans. That's all right. Back when I first started following NASCAR racing, older fans had
to explain to me why it was such a big deal NASCAR was allowing Curtis Turner to race
again. So for the benefit of newer fans, and for a glance in the rearview mirror for my
fellow old timers, here's a list of some of Dale Earnhardt's Greatest Hits. Just remember,
objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear.
Richmond, February 24th 1985- With 13 laps to go Earnhardt
was involved in one of his many spirited side by side duels with the late Tim Richmond.
Richmond seemed to have the better car and was blocking every move Earnhardt made. Finally
Dale laid a bumper on Tim and both cars went out of control. Earnhardt managed to gather
his car back up and went on to win the race. Richmond finished 9th. After the race
Earnhardt told reporters, "I think he'd have tried to do the same thing. Anyone
would. If they say they wouldn't, they're lying."
Bristol, August 25th, 1985- Once again the dynamic duo of Tim
Richmond and Dale Earnhardt were arguing over the lead. When a caution flag flew Earnhardt
went into the pits before pit road was opened, and was penalized by being sent to the back
of the pack. Richmond took the lead of the race. Earnhardt drove back to the front making
a lot more passes than friends. With 18 laps to go Earnhardt caught Richmond and laid a
bumper to him. Tim didn't spin, but he did get out of shape and Earnhardt took the lead.
For the rest of the race Richmond tried returning the favor to his off track buddy, but to
no avail. After the race Tim told reporters, "I'm not mad. It was good hard racing,
and I knew what to expect."
Martinsville, September 22nd, 1985- Guess who? Once again the
Tim and Dale show was thrilling fans on the short track. Once again Tim had the lead. Once
again Dale wanted it. Once again Dale drove into the back of Richmond's car and shoved him
out of the way. That day Tim tried to retaliate, but just as he cut the wheel to try to
send Earnhardt flying into the infield, there was a wreck ahead of them and Richmond had
to drop the anchors to avoid wrecking. Earnhardt streaked on for the win. Dale told
reporters, ""If I hollered every time I got hit, you'd think I was a
North Wilkesboro, April 20th, 1986- Earnhardt led much of the
race, but a slow pit stop dropped him well back in the order. Once again Earnhardt came
like a missile through the pack, pausing long enough to stuff Geoff Bodine into the wall.
When he caught Ricky Rudd, Earnhardt quickly dispatched him with a blast of the chrome
horn and went onto win. After the race Rudd told reporters, "I was hoping to get
close enough to him to put a little Dale Earnhardt on his bumper, but I couldn't catch
Richmond, March 8th, 1987- Earnhardt started out the race in
typical Intimidator style. He shoved Alan Kulwicki aside. Alan didn't like that one bit
and shoved Earnhardt right back sending him spinning. Perhaps to teach Earnhardt a lesson
NASCAR didn't throw a caution flag. They learned a lesson instead. Earnhardt drove meaner
when was he was mad. Harry Gant was running second when Dale caught him. Earnhardt knocked
once then kicked in the door. Gant went flying. For the rest of the day most drivers chose
to just courteously get out of the way when Dale caught them. That win was one of a
remarkable six in seven events for Earnhardt early that season. Gant wasn't impressed.
"Earnhardt is blind as a bat" Harry charged. "He's done that before though,
so it wasn't any big surprise."
Bristol-April 12th, 1987- Rain threatened to end the race at
the midway point so all the drivers were up on the wheel, but none more so than Dale
Earnhardt. When he caught leader Sterling Marlin, Earnhardt hit him so blatantly debris
was thrown from the grandstands at the 3 car for the next several laps. Rain did cause a
delay in the race. During that red flag period NASCAR told Earnhardt if he hit one more
car he'd be disqualified. Earnhardt went on to win anyway.
Charlotte- The Winston- May 17th, 1987- Bill Elliott was the
class of the field that day. For the first time that year the Winston was broken into 3
segments of 75,50 and 10 laps in length. Unlike today the field was not inverted and I
don't think anyone had even dared dream of a giant pachinko board yet. Elliott won both
the first two segments and started on the pole for the third. Geoff Bodine got a great
start on Elliott and managed to get a nose past Bill. Earnhardt tried tagging along with
Bodine and ran Elliott down onto the apron. Bill lost control, slid up the track, and
nailed Bodine's car. Bodine went spinning. Earnhardt went into the lead. A clearly unhappy
Bill Elliott set sail after Earnhardt and the two began swapping paint as they battled for
the lead. Earnhardt still had the lead but Bill Elliott returned the favor and forced
Earnhardt down onto the apron. Earnhardt never even lifted. He just drove wide open
through the tri-oval grass, returned to the track and never even lost the lead. For
reasons inexplicable to me, that move is called "The Pass in the Grass."
Earnhardt never got passed by Elliott. Going down the backstraight an annoyed Earnhardt
drifted down the track and eased up on the gas. When Elliott tried to go high to pass
Dale, Earnhardt cut the wheel hard and put Bill into the wall. It was more a brush than a
slam, but the front fender on Elliott's car was forced into the front tire, and two laps
later than tire went flat. After the race an enraged Elliott drove through pit road,
returned to the track, and slammed Earnhardt while Dale was taking his victory lap.
Talladega, May 2nd, 1993- It looked like the final laps of
the Winston 500 would be rained out. In what might not have been the brightest decision
the sanctioning body ever made, the track was dried and the race restarted with two laps
to go. A frustrated Dale Earnhardt, who had been leading the race when the red flag flew,
got jumped by Ernie Irvan and lost eight places while trying to gather his car up. On a
doomed charge back to the front Earnhardt got into Rusty Wallace and sent the 2 car out of
control. Wallace's car practically disintegrated while tumbling countless times, and Rusty
broke his wrist. Earnhardt finished fourth and Wallace sixth. Though Wallace was
diplomatic in his comments that night, in 1995 when Dale spun him out at Bristol Wallace
bounced a water bottle off Dale's noggin, and hollered, "I ain't forgotten about
Charlotte, May 30th, 1993- During the World 600 Earnhardt was
fading badly on worn tires and desperately needed a caution flag so he could pit. He was
in danger of going a lap down. Earnhardt radioed his pit crew to tell them to get ready,
because they needed a caution and he'd handle bringing one out. A lap later Earnhardt got
into the back of Greg Sacks and spun him out. Unfortunately for the Intimidator NASCAR had
been monitoring his radio frequency when he made the comment. He was penalized and sent to
the back of the longest line. That made Earnhardt mad. Dale tends to drive real fast when
he's angry. It took him eight laps to grab the lead. To take it he needed to pass Ernie
Irvan. One writer present that night described that pass as an "On track
mugging." Earnhardt went on to beat Jeff Gordon by almost four seconds.
Rockingham, February 26th, 1996- Earnhardt and a surprisingly
strong Bobby Hamilton were having a great battle up front with Hamilton holding the
advantage. With 48 laps to go Earnhardt laid a bumper on the 43 car and got Bobby into the
wall. The steering was bent up on Hamilton's car and he wrecked again two laps later
falling to 24th in the final rundown. Earnhardt won the race. Hamilton's car owner, the
King, was philosophical. "It wasn't our day. But we had a lot of help seeing to it it
wasn't our day." Later that week Earnhardt tried apologizing to the 43 team's crew
chief, Robby Loomis. "How long you reckoning on be angry with me?" Dale asked.
"How long you figuring on being alive?" Loomis replied.
Bristol, August 26th, 1995- Earnhardt put a move on Terry
Labonte on the final lap of this race eerily similar to the one he used last night. For
once, the trick didn't work. Earnhardt got into the back of Labonte coming to the line.
Terry lost control, hit Ward Burton's car, crossed the line for the win and slammed into
the wall nose first. Earnhardt held onto second.
Richmond, February 23, 1986- The Big One. In what was perhaps
the most infamous move of his career Earnhardt almost got himself suspended. With three
laps to go Earnhardt was leading, but Darrell Waltrip passed him down the backstraight.
Earnhardt tried diving under Waltrip going into turn three, but to everyone else at the
track that day it was obvious he was carrying way too much speed to make the corner. Dale
slammed into Waltrip, and they both went spinning. The third and fourth place cars of
Bobby Allison and Joe Ruttman were also involved in the wreck. A surprised Kyle Petty, who
was running fifth, found himself handed his first Winston Cup victory. Earnhardt was less
than repentant immediately after the accident. He admitted he made a mistake but said the
contact was not intentional. "I had no intentions of wrecking anyone. For damn sure I
hadn't planned on wrecking myself." Earnhardt huffed. Waltrip, among others, called
for Earnhardt to be suspended. NASCAR did discuss the possibility, but by that point his
PR people had gotten to Dale and he was far more apologetic. Initially he was fined 5
grand, put on a year's probation, and forced to post a 10 thousand dollar bond against any
cars he damaged driving in a reckless fashion. A hearing reduced that to a 3000 dollar
fine, and the probation and bond were cancelled, though Earnhardt was warned NASCAR would
have a close eye out on him. One bit of evidence Earnhardt's camp introduced at the appeal
was a letter signed by people involved with racing attesting to his character. Ironically
one person, and the only driver, to sign that note, was Ricky Rudd who was involved in
Saturday night's mess as well. A repentant Earnhardt drove much more carefully. In fact it
was five whole races later before he ran into Joe Ruttman and Ricky Rudd (oops) while
driving to a victory. Earnhardt did apologize in victory lane to Ruttman however,
especially since he'd been caught up in the Richmond wreck as well.
Bristol, August 29th, 1999.- Earnhardt, fighting worn tires,
got passed by Terry Labonte who had gambled on four fresh tires after getting spun out
after while the final caution flag of the evening. Labonte used those fresh tires to good
advantage and eventually passed Earnhardt for the lead. None too gently. On the final lap
Earnhardt bumped Labonte, sent him spinning, and triggered a multi-car wreck involving a
majority of the leaders. Earnhardt said he hadn't tried to wreck Terry just "Rattle
his cage" a little. Because it was the first really blatant such incident in the
modern NASCAR Internet era, message boards were flooded with a record volume of messages
decrying or applauding Dale's tactics. Some seem not to know the move was classic
Earnhardt, for better or worse. Hack Internet writer Matt McLaughlin writes an article
listing only a small portion of controversial incidents involved in the Intimidator's
storied career. That article ends here. Ain't it great witnessing history in the making?
Somehow I don't think I've written the last chapter in the story of Earnhardt's Greatest