Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of the most beloved drivers in the sport before his tragic death on the track in 2001. However, the story about the Earnhardt racing dynasty actually began more than sixty years ago.
Ralph Earnhardt toiled in a cotton mill in his native North Carolina to support his growing family, and on the weekends he could be found going pedal to the metal at the dirt tracks, taking on the competition in the early days of stock car racing and becoming one of the best short-track drivers in the state. From a simple backyard garage, the Earnhardts reached the highest echelons of professional stock car racing and became the stuff of myths are made of for their fans.
20 Long Racing Traditions
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s grandfather was Ralph Earnhardt who dropped out of school in the sixth grade, going to work in a cotton mill and in a garage. In 1956, he won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship and is named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Earnhardt died of a heart attack in 1973 at age 45. Junior’s grandfather on the other side of the family is the late Robert Gee, a race car constructor.
19 Dale Sr. Was A High School Drop-Out
Dale Earnhardt Sr. dropped out of high school after eighth grade; according to Bill Hewitt in People Weekly, he later said, "I tried the ninth grade twice and quit. Couldn't hang, man. Couldn't hang." He worked odd jobs, argued with his father who wanted him to complete high school, and drove on dirt tracks.
18 Senior Raced A Pink Ford When He Was Young
Earnhardt became famous for driving a black car emblazoned with the number 3, but his first dirt-track car was a hot-pink 1956 Ford Sedan, which he got from his neighbors, David and Ray Oliver. They intended to paint the car avocado green, but a paint mishap resulted in the car being pink. They could not afford to repaint it, and he raced the pink car on dirt tracks around Charlotte, North Carolina.
17 Married Young
Dale Earnhardt Sr. got married for the first time at age 17, and at age 18 he had a son, Kerry. Earnhardt divorced his first wife at 19 and married a second time. This marriage would last five years before he divorced again. Earnhardt had two children with his second wife, a daughter, Kelley, and a son, Dale Jr. Kerry, Kelley, and Dale Jr. all followed in his footsteps and ventured into racing.
16 Dale Earnhardt's Inheritance
When Dale was 22, his father died of a heart attack, leaving him his race cars and the business side of racing that came with them. Earnhardt once said: "Daddy talked to Mama about putting me in his car. Then he died. I'd give up everything I got if he were still alive, but I don't think I'd be where I am if he hadn't died."
15 No Fear... And No Money
Earnhardt was fearless on the track, but racing was not an easy way to make a living. Unlike some other drivers, driving was not a hobby for Dale - it was almost his only means of support. If he was short of money, he borrowed from other drivers, hoping that he would win the next Sunday's race so he could pay them back on Monday.
14 The Big Break
Earnhardt's big break into racing came in 1978 when replacing another driver for the World 600 Cup in Charlotte. He finished seventh in the Firecracker 400 and caught the eye of Rod Osterlund, who owned a Winston Cup car. Osterlund hired Earnhardt, who drove with his characteristic fearlessness and refused to be intimidated by more experienced drivers. In his 16th start, he had his first win.
13 Full Focus On Racing
Senior invested his winnings in his business, Dale Earnhardt Inc., He later acknowledged that his second marriage broke up because of his racing; all his money and attention went to his racing cars. He said his family "probably should have been on welfare" because he was not providing properly for them." In 1982, after the breakup of his second marriage, he married a third time and had a daughter, Taylor Nicole.
12 The Richest, Most Famous Guy In NASCAR
Earnhardt eventually became the most famous driver in the sport. By 2000, 25 percent of NASCAR's $1.1 billion merchandising sales went to Earnhardt-related items. Dale Earnhardt, Inc., expanded exponentially, eventually making $41.6 million, with 200 employees and three cars on the NASCAR circuit. The company had a corporate jet, a helicopter, and a 76-foot yacht, and the work area was so big that his mechanics called it the "garage-mahal."
Though Dale Earnhardt was known as a hard-nosed competitor and “The Intimidator,” he was known away from the track for having a big heart. When North Carolina farmers were facing financial ruin in the wake of a flood that had destroyed crops, Earnhardt bought and sent them tons of seed to replant their devastated acreage. Earnhardt was also generous with fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
10 Wives And Kids
Dale Earnhardt Sr. had four children: Kerry, Kelley, Dale Jr., and Taylor Nicole. He had these children with three wives: Latane Brown, Brenda Lorraine Gee, and Teresa Earnhardt; he was married to Teresa at the time of his death. Teresa went on to inherit his fortune but soon became unpopular with the rest of the family as she tried to restrict the use of their family name.
9 Dale Jr. - The Most Popular Member Of The Family
Jr. has won the Most Popular Driver Award fifteen consecutive times from 2003–2017. Earnhardt retired with 26 wins in the Cup Series, ranking him in the top 40 in NASCAR history. Despite his accomplishments, he still doesn’t feel like he’s done enough for his fans - even though he's also facilitated more than 200 "wishes" for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
8 Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Co-Owner of JR Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt, is two years older than him. She did race for a number of years but decided to give it up in favor of focusing on the business aspect of race car driving. These days, Kelley Earnhardt Miller is the co-owner of JR Motorsports, the stock car racing company that she owns with her brother Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7 Kelley Could've Been A Great NASCAR Driver
Kelley took to racing at a young age, learning from her famous father. Dale Earnhardt Sr. always said he thought Kelley would be the next great NASCAR driver, even more so than Dale Jr. “She could have had a lot of opportunities had it been a different environment and a different culture and a different climate,” Earnhardt Jr. told ESPN. Racing in the 1990s wasn’t very welcoming to women.
6 Kerry Earnhardt Has Retired From NASCAR
Dale Jr’s half-brother, Kerry Earnhardt, has also done some NASCAR racing. Kerry began following in his father’s footsteps in the 1990s, becoming 1992 Rookie of the Year. He got started with NASCAR with the Busch Series in 1998, and in 2000, he raced in the Winston Cup, where his father and half-brother also competed. He crashed during the Winston Cup and experienced another serious crash the following year. In 2007, he retired from racing.
5 Kerry's Sons Are Also Racers
Kerry's sons Bobby Dale and Jeffrey also race. Bobby Dale currently competes part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving the No. 66 Toyota Camry for MBM Motorsports. Jeffrey Earnhardt is currently a free agent, last competing part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and part-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
4 Dale Sr. Only Had One Daytona 500 Win
Despite many tries, Earnhardt was able to secure victory at the Daytona 500 only once in his career. On February 15, 1998, Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt after failing to win in his previous 19 attempts. The rest of the season did not go as well, and the 500 was his only victory that year.
3 Senior's Last Race
Before his fatal accident, Earnhardt talked with his crew and teammates over the radio. His friend and crew chief Larry McReynolds said, "Those last ten laps, I saw such a different Dale Earnhardt. I can't imagine how proud he was to look out his windshield to see his son (Dale Jr.) and good friend (Michael Waltrip) up there."
2 Senior's Legacy
Earnhardt’s vision was that his name and that brand would live on for years after his racing career. But today, there is no Dale Earnhardt Inc. anymore. His son, Dale Jr., went on to race for Hendrick Motorsports. If Teresa Earnhardt, Dale’s widow, has anything to say about it, Earnhardt’s children will have nothing to do with their father’s name and legacy, including the opportunity to profit from it.
1 Family Feud
In a case that made headlines and riled Earnhardt fans, Teresa Earnhardt attempted to prevent Kerry Earnhardt, Dale’s oldest son, from using the Earnhardt name to market and promote his home-building business as well as a line of furniture, known as the "Earnhardt Collection." Teresa sued over Kerry’s use of the Earnhardt name, however, Dale Sr.'s children from his previous marriages came together in support of their brother Kerry.
Sources: Fox, ESPN, Heavy, Axle Addict, PPCorn