3 ForeverBy: Jean Strong (earndoggy)
(January 26, 2002)
He was six feet tall, but he seemed taller. He was an imposing figure. As he swaggered
through the garage area, Dale Earnhardt commanded respect. It seemed like you either loved
him or you hated him; you either dreaded the sight of him or welcomed it.
He was born in a small town in North Clina (thats the way he pronounced it).
His father, Ralph, worked in the textile mill and in his spare time scraped, scratched,
patched and wired together race cars. He loved to race on the local dirt tracks and soon
became well known for his style of racing. He raced for position most of the race, but
according to Humpy Wheeler; "...Then, as it got to the end, there he was. He was like
some apparition out of the clouds. You'd wonder where he came from." (1) Dale went to
the races with his daddy, watching, learning, absorbing.
Soon he was racing too. Just like his father, he scratched out an existence any way he
could, just as long as he could race. Racing was all he ever wanted to do. He didnt
just race, he was a racer. As he terrorized the local dirt tracks, people began noticing
the brash kid who wrecked more cars than he won with. He moved through their ranks like a
bulldozer, charging to the front in almost every race.
Inevitably, the powers that be on the big racing circuits took notice of him. He was hired
by a NASCAR Winston Cup car owner. He raced. He wrecked. He won. Soon everyone on the
NASCAR circuits knew his name.
He got married and got divorced twice. Racing was his love, his life, his all. He had
three children, but was unable to support them.
One historical day, he was hired to drive a Richard Childress car. Dale was now in a good
car and he showed his talent. In his first full season on the Winston Cup Circuit, known
as the rookie year, he won a race. Only a few other drivers had done that. Very few. The
very next season he won the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. No one else had ever done
that. No one. The brash kid from North Carolina had come a long way. A high school dropout
who didnt like to talk to the media because he thought people would make fun of the
way he talked, was now a champion.
Goodwrench sponsored a car for the team. They painted it black. The Goodwrench logo was in
white and a big white number "3" outlined in red dominated the sides and top of
the car. History had been written.
Dale always had women around. They were attracted to his dashing style, his good looks,
his aura. A young lady named Teresa figured out a way to get close to him. Rod Osterlund
said, "She was always around, but she was part of a group. Dale had at lot of
women.....at every track during that 1980 season. Teresa did a smart thing. She became
involved with his kids. Whenever they were around, she was taking care of them.....She got
her man."(1a) By this time he was earning enough money that he was able to get
custody of his kids. His ex-wifes house burned down and the two older kids came to
live with Dale. Soon his third son joined them. Teresa took care of the kids while Dale
was racing. And history was written again.
Teresa and Dale got married. They had a daughter named Taylor Nicole. The little girl was
the light of Dales life. Teresa taught him that there was more to life than running
over people on the racetrack. He eased up a little, his driving was not as rough. He still
drove through spaces that werent there, but somehow he managed to get through.
Teresa had a lot of business savvy, and she became the manager of the fast growing empire
of this young man who lived to race. That took a big load off his shoulders and let him
spend more time with his racing.
That black car with the white number 3 on it roared and rampaged through the field of
cars. It became a drivers worst nightmare to look into his rearview mirror and see
that black number 3 behind him. People joked that the school kids in his hometown were
taught how to count, "1, 2, Dale Earnhardt, 4...."
Dale went on to win seven Winston Cup Championships, tying an all time record set by
Richard Petty, who was known as the King of stock car racing. The stands at every race
were sold out. Even if people had another favorite driver, they always looked to see where
that black number 3 was. He was the one they came to watch. He stirred up controversy. He
won too much. He wrecked too many people. He was their favorite driver. More stands were
added at all the race tracks. NASCAR was the fastest growing sport in the country. It
wouldnt be exaggerating to say that Dale Earnhardt was probably the biggest reason
that happened. His souvenir sales earned more than all other drivers combined. The
internet had more websites on Dale Earnhardt than on any other driver.
I have two sleep disorders and fibromyalgia. Also, unknown to me, a kidney stone was
embedded in my ureter. One of the medications I was on caused me to gain 60 pounds. The
doctor said, "Lose the weight."
So I exercised. I walked on trails out in the forest with my black lab, named Earnhardt,
by my side.. The pain was awful. Using a ski pole I literally dragged myself, step by
step. Every time I wanted to quit, Id think to myself, "What would Dale
do?" And I kept going. The pounds began to come off, ever so slowly. The agonizing
pain remained. "What would Dale do?" I kept exercising. He was my inspiration
and my "driving" force. I knew he would never quit in a hundred years, so I
On the track he was rough, tough and terrible. Off the track he was a loving father,
husband and son. He anonymously created the Earnhardt Fund. The Foundation for the
Carolinas would collect the gifts and distribute them to the charities selected by the
Earnhardts. (2) He didnt want anyone to know about all the charity work he did. He
called a 15-year-old kid who was dying of cancer at the hospital and talked to him for
about 14 minutes. Chip Williams, who was in NASCAR public relations at that time thought
it was a pretty cool thing for Earnhardt to do. He told some reporters about it, and they
wanted to interview Dale. It made him mad. He told Chip "I don't want to talk about
it. I didn't do it for the publicity. And I don't want that kid to think that was the
reason I called." (3)
His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had also joined the Winston Cup circuit full time by now.
Dale was so proud of him. They were as different as day and night. Dale was country, he
lived on a farm, tended to livestock, listened to country music, Jr. was rock and roll,
baggy pants and baseball caps on backwards. Dale had few close friends, Jr. had a ton of
em. Dale went to bed early, Jr. went to bed late. But they shared one thing. Those
racing genes! Jr. had won races too. He was good. Very good.
Dale had a quiet wisdom, what they call horse sense in the country. My favorite quote is;
"In life sometimes there are hurdles you get over and some you dont. On the
ones you dont, well, you just keep trying until you do." (4)He was a happy man,
he felt he had it all. All but one thing.
He roared through the racing community, winning at everything. Except one. The crown jewel
of racing, the season opener, the Daytona 500, had eluded him. Several times he fell out
of the race completely with engine trouble. Several times, too many times, he came in
second. In 1995 he came in second again. "I don't reckon I'm supposed to win the damn
thing," (5)he said, with his trademark wry grin.
Then, in 1998, excitement was high. Dale had a new crew chief. They had high hopes for the
season. The race went well. Towards the end, Dale was leading again. The laps wound down,
and he was still leading. He refused to get excited, and so did his fans. Wed seen
this movie before. Ten to go. Six to go. Three to go. The fans began to come to their
feet. Even fans that didnt like him were cheering him on. Two to go. The roar of the
crowd drowned out the roar of the engines and overcame the soundproofing of the
announcers booth. He approached the one to go signal. Still, wed seen this
movie before. Then, behind him, cars spinning, a big cloud of smoke. The caution flag came
out along with the white flag. DALE EARNHARDT HAD FINALLY WON THE DAYTONA 500!!!!!! The
announcers were almost hysterical. "On his 20 try Dale Earnhardt wins the Daytona
A quiet voice came over the radio. "Way to go, guys,"(6) he said to his crew.
They were almost hysterical too. The fans were definitely hysterical! Another quiet voice,
"Way to go, Dad!"(7) He took his victory lap to the sound of 100,000 people
roaring approval. Then he started down pit lane towards the approach to Victory Lane, and
an unprecedented thing happened. Virtually every man of every crew lined pit road,
high-fiving him as he drove by. Nothing like that had ever been seen before in the history
of stock car racing. Later he said, "Man, I had to slow way down! They damn near
broke my arm off!"(8)
Finally he could stand it no longer. The jubilation broke through. He turned that car down
into the grass of the infield and began spinning it around and around. When he was done,
amazingly, a number 3 was inscribed in the sod. It didnt last long, fans were there
in droves grabbing a piece of it. "I'm pretty good at writin', huh?" (9) he
bragged. The celebration wore on and on and on. Nobody wanted to leave.
Finally, the media packed up their lights and cameras and left. The fans trickled out, the
broadcasters booth shut down. It got dark and the track was deserted. Almost. One
lone person was driving around the track in a golf cart, of all things! Dale was still
there, quietly savoring his greatest victory.
The racing community expected great things from him now. But, the man in black didnt
win another race that year. The year after that, he didnt win any at all. People
began to say, "Ol Dale, hes done. Hes getting old." Others
expected an announcement that he would be retiring at the end of the season. Hed
lost his edge, they said. He wasnt winning, he wasnt really that competitive.
During the brief off season between 1999 and 2000 he underwent surgery on his back, neck
and head. He healed quickly. Intensive therapy and the care of the best doctors he could
find helped speed the process.
When the 2000 season opened, Dale was there. He swaggered through the garage area with a
spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye that had been missing for a long time. He said
he felt great! The Man in Black was back! And he began winning races. He finished in the
top ten consistently. It looked like that eighth championship was within his grasp. Lost
his edge? Hah! Too old? I dont think so!
He stirred up his share of controversy, as usual. At the Bristol night race he bumped
Terry Labonte out of his way, sending Terry spinning into the wall. He won, but when he
climbed out of his car there was no joy in his eyes and his trademark grin was absent. He
looked worried, and asked if Terry was okay. "I didnt mean to turn him around,
I just wanted to rattle his cage a little."(10)
Then came Talladega. Four laps to go, and Dale was seventeenth. Ahead of him was a
snarling, snapping pack of cars, all seeking that checkered flag. "Well, he
aint gonna get this one," said the fans. But wait!! Whats that? Somehow,
he scratched, clawed, banged, bumped, scraped and scrabbled his way to the front. The fans
were on their feet. Ol Dale took the checkered flag. Once again the roar from the
stands drowned out the roar of the engines. This time the announcers were almost
speechless. "Howd he DO that?"
He raced his way to the end of the season, but finished second in the points. His eighth
championship had eluded him by just a few points.
The 2001 season began. We knew the Man in Black was back, this was gonna be a great
season. This was the Daytona 500. Would he win again? Dale was lounging around on pit road
when a reporter stopped for an interview. He grinned, and told the reporter that he was
gonna see something today that had never been seen before.
It was time for the drivers to get into their cars. With one arm around his son and the
other around his wife, Dale approached his car. He turned and whispered something into
Jr.s ear. With a big grin, Jr. nodded and went off towards his car. Dale climbed
into his car, and then stuck his head out to get a kiss from Teresa. That kiss was one of
the most loving, tender kisses I have ever seen. It was a totally uncharacteristic display
of emotion from the Man in Black when he had his race face on. Then Dale went about the
business of buckling himself in, and as Teresa turned away she appeared to be crying.
Maybe she had a presentiment. Maybe she was just proud of him.
Forty-two engines roared into life and the Daytona 500 was on! And guess who was leading
when there were only a few laps to go? Nope. Not Dale. Michael Waltrip, a very close
friend of Dales, and also an employee, driving a car owned by Dale, was in the lead.
Right behind him was Dale Jr. In third, driving like a madman, weaving back and forth
across the track at almost 200 miles an hour, that black number 3 car held back the pack
of cars behind him long enough for his friend and his son to get far ahead.
In the broadcast booth, Michaels brother Darrell cheered him on to victory. Michael
had never won a Winston Cup race, and now, with Dales help, hed won the
As Michael and Jr. crossed the finish line the 40 car of Sterling Marlin tapped the back
end of Dales car, ever so lightly. The black number 3 bounced down into the grass
and then headed straight up the track for the outside wall. Milliseconds before he hit,
the 36 car of Ken Schrader t-boned his car. The double impact caused Dales seat
belts to fail. His car hit the wall. Hard. And Dale Earnhardt was gone. Dale Earnhardt was
Dale Earnhardt was gone.
In the broadcast booth Darrell was talking to his brother, excited and happy. Then Darrell
turned and looked at the monitor. The joy drained from his face, and his expression
chilled my blood. He managed to say a few more words to Michael, then he took the
headphones off and just stared at the monitor with that terrible expression on his face.
But, Dale would be okay. Wouldnt he? Hed been in much worse wrecks than that.
He always pulled through. He might be a little stiff and sore, but hed be okay. He
was tough. He was invincible. He was Dale Earnhardt!!
As word spread, the fans gathered outside the race track. They gathered outside Dale
Earnhardt, Inc. in Mooresville, North Carolina. They grieved. They stood in silence, a
deafening silence, filled with the roar of the black number 3. The internet sprang to
life. Our little site got more than 100,000 hits in the first 24 hours after his death.
People from seven different countries, not counting the United States, left messages of
condolence. Poems, songs, anecdotes and words of sympathy poured in. A country mourned the
passing of a great man, arguably, the greatest race car driver that ever lived. NASCAR
would never be the same again. The thrill was gone. The man whom thousands gathered to
watch was no longer there. The heart went out of the sport.
I wrote a song too. It was to the tune of "Go Rest High On That Mountain",
performed by Vince Gill. Three weeks after his death I summoned up the courage to sing it
at a karaoke bar. I dedicated the song to Dale, and as I began to sing, another
unprecedented thing happened. The bar went totally silent. The pool players stopped
playing and stood silently watching. No one talked, no ice rattled, no glasses clinked.
Silence reigned as I sang:
You gave your fans a living legend,
We thrilled to hear that engine roar.
You werent afraid to face a challenge,
And now you knock on heavens door.
Go rest high on that mountain.
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven shouting
Love for the Father and the Son.
Oh, how we cried the day you left us.
We lost a hero and a friend.
Youll always be my inspiration.
Your legacy will never end.
Go rest high on that mountain.
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven shouting
Love for the Father and the Son.
In life there are some hurdles you get over and some you don't. For the ones you don't get
over....well you keep trying until you do. ----Dale Earnhardt
(1) Quoted from At The Altar Of Speed
by Leigh Montville, p.26
(1a) At The Altar Of Speed, p. 89
(2) From At The Altar Of Speed, beginning of Chapter 10, p 169
(3) Anchorage Daily News, Wednesday February 21, 2001, article by Chip Williams.
(4) interview on tv..don't remember with who, but he was wearing a blue shirt, it's on one
of the memorial tapes too. At this point I just am not up to the emotional strain of
looking through all the tapes trying to find it. I believe it is accurate within a word or
(5) The Pass In The Grass, book by the Charlotte Observer, article by Tom Higgins, p. 85
(6) CD burned by Top Gun aka Bobby Heal (I don't know where he got the recording)
(7) same as above
(8) same as above
(9) At The Altar Of Speed, p. 144
(10) Article in Bristol Herald Courier, Allen Gregory, reprinted in Bristol tribute
pamphlet March 2001
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