Dale Earnhardt Snr was one of the greatest NASCAR drivers, known for his aggressive style of driving. Known by numerous nicknames such as “The Intimidator”, “The Dominator”, “Big E” and “Ironhead”, Dale Earnhardt was one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR. Aside from his distinctive personality and driving ability, Earnhardt earned his place in autoracing history with his Winston Cup Series victories and as the winner of 7 championships.
Ralph Dale Earnhardt was born on 29 April 1951 in Kannapolis of North Carolina. Born into a family where his father, Ralph, was a top NASCAR short-track driver, it is little wonder that Dale became interested in the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. debuted in the Winston Cup in the year 1975, and in his first race driving an Ed Negre, he passed the finish line in 22nd place. In 1979 Earnhardt joined Rod Osterlund Racing, and during his rookie season, he won Rookie of the Year after gaining four poles and several great finishes. 1980 was filled with success for Earnhardt and he clinched the Winston Cup championship. Earnhardt moved to Richard Childress Racing in 1981, and although he had a bad season in 1982, he came back with remarkable strength in 1983. He gained his second Winston Cup Championship in 1986. Earnhardt saw a grand victory in 1986, once again winning, by 288 points.
The 1990s were off to a good start when Earnhardt won the Winston Cup for the 4th time in his career. He repeated this victory again in 1991, 1993 and 1994 – a total of 7 Winston Cup championship wins. He suffered a grave accident in 1996 which led the NASCAR officials to mandate the “Earnhardt Bar”. Fortunately Dale Earnhardt survived, although he had several broken bones. In 1998 Earnhardt finally gained victory at the Daytona 500, a win he had been aiming for for some 20 years. Earnhardt excited the crowds in 2000 with two thrilling wins, neck-in-neck with Bobby Labonte.
Sadly Dale Earnhardt Sr. was involved in a terrible accident in the 2001 Daytona 500 and lost his life. The death of Dale Earnhardt led to much media speculation, extensive coverage and great public concern. Following his death, NASCAR placed greater emphasis on safety with better restraints, safer barriers, strict rules for vehicle inspection and the development of a roof escape system.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. received many awards in his lifetime for his exceptional role in NASCAR, and in 1998 was placed second in NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Earnhardt was named Most Popular NASCAR Driver of 2001 and was an inductee of the Motorsports Hall of Fame Of America in 2002. Recently, in 2006 he was also inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. His son Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues in his father’s footsteps as a successful driver. Earnhardt also left behind three other children, namely, Kelley King, Taylor and Kerry. Dale Earnhardt Snr was certainly a force to be reckoned with on the race track and will always be remembered for his grand achievements.
The North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame is dedicated to remembering and bringing honor to the people and the machines that have been responsible for many memorable and extraordinary moments in racing. All the exhibits and inductees at the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame are testament to the love and commitment that goes into this sport, the long hours and the hard work done by everyone on a racing team.
There is a Board of Directors at the North Carolina Hall of Fame that ensures that all areas of this non-profit organization are taken care of. The board consists of Penske Team Owner Don Miller; Vice Chairman Cecile Ebert; Secretary and Treasurer Wanda Cavin; Bobby Allison, Winton Cup Champion and previous team owner and motor sports broadcaster, Buddy Baker. Other members include Johnny Hayes, Joe Gibbs, Darrell Gwynn, Max Helton, Garry Hill, Benny Parsons, Mickey Nutting, Rusty Wallace and Deb Williams.
The exhibits are constantly being rotated and changed to keep loyal fans returning to the North Carolina Hall of Fame. With more than forty vintage race cars being displayed at the museum, it is not an attraction that visitors should rush through. Cars, such as 1965 Ford Galaxy driven by Fred Lorenzen and by Wendell Scott, are still ready to hit the circuit at any time. The very rare Flathead V-8 1934 Ford is also on display, as well as the “Midnight” Pontiac that was driven to victory many times by Rusty Wallace. Racing uniforms and helmets adorn the walls and the Goodyear Mini-Theatre features some of the most spectacular racing documentaries and footage from year’s gone by.
The N.C. Hall of Fame also has a gift shop on the premises that has a vast variety of shirts, gifts and other memorabilia for the public to take home with them. Garry Hill is responsible for the many wonderful pictures that are displayed and has been commissioned many times over to bring the important racing events back to life. His artistic talent is seen in every painting and the public is able to purchase lithographic prints of his amazing work. The Indy Simulator is another great way to experience the excitement of the racing world.
Inductees to the N.C. Hall of Fame have included Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson. Names such as Maurice Petty, Robert Yates and Dale Inman come to mind when thinking of the recipients of the Snap-On Golden Wrench Award. These names have been written down in history to be seen by future generations. Looking at the future, one often wonders who has what is takes to have their name etched onto that wall?
After the tragic death of one of NASCAR’s racing legends, Dale Earnhardt Sr, in 2001 at the Daytona 500, NASCAR starting putting their efforts towards designing a new car- the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow (“COT”). The design and testing period has taken five years to ensure that the car was safer and more cost efficient than the cars previously raced. In 2006, the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow rolled onto the circuit for the first time, ready to be put through its paces.
Brett Bodine, former driver and current Director of Cost for NASCAR, had the opportunity to test drive the COT. With a lap time of 48.19 seconds and a top speed of 186.760, the future for the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow looked extremely bright. While testing the COT against other NASCAR cars, designers and engineers have been able to ensure the safety of the driver, and that of the cars driving in the leading cars’ wake turbulence. The new design should make passing other cars and driving next to each other much safer than in the past.
In regard to the safety of the COT, the new car has had adjustments made to its roll cage. The roll cage has been heightened by two inches, widened by four and moved three inches back. Improvements have also been made to the cars’ integrity with better construction protected against intrusions into the cockpit and the “G” forces that these cars experience have been dramatically reduced.
Another improvement was made to the position of the driver’s seat. With the drivers’ seat being moved to the right by four inches and the door bars being reinforced by steel plating, the drivers’ safety has been increased. Lower fuel volumes have been introduced, suspension changes, bumper heights have been made to match and floor plan configurations have all been adjusted to ensure the safety of the sport. Fire protection has also been increased and many of these changes will lead to great reductions in cost to racing team owners. The COT has also been installed with a windshield that closely resembles that of a street car, which forces the cars to move at a slower speed due to the car not being as aerodynamic as its predecessors.
After making its debut at Bristol Race Track, there were many favorable reactions to the COT, but mostly the drivers were impressed with its performance. For 2007, the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow will take part in sixteen events, and in twenty-six events during the 2008 season. It may take some time getting used to the COT on the track, but it is a car that was not only designed to win races, but to protect the drivers and enhance the popularity and safety of NASCAR sanctioned races for spectators, drivers and auto racing teams.