Dale Earnhardt : biography
Early and personal life
Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, on April 29, 1951, to Martha Coleman and Ralph Lee Earnhardt, who was then one of the best short-track drivers in North Carolina. Ralph won his one and only NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Although Ralph did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt would not be persuaded to give up his dream of racing, dropping out of school to race. Ralph was a hard teacher for Earnhardt, and after Ralph died of a heart attack at his home in 1973, it took many years before Earnhardt felt as though he had finally "proven" himself to his father. Earnhardt had four siblings, Danny, Randy, Cathy, and Kaye.
At age 17, Earnhardt married his first wife, Latane Brown, in 1968. Brown gave birth to Earnhardt’s first son, Kerry Earnhardt, in 1969. They were subsequently divorced in 1970. In 1971, Earnhardt married his second wife, Brenda Gee – the daughter of NASCAR car builder Robert Gee. With Gee, Earnhardt had two more children: a daughter, Kelley King, in 1972, and a son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in 1974. Not long after Dale Jr. was born, Dale Sr. and Brenda divorced. Dale then married his last wife, Teresa Houston (Tommy Houston’s niece) in 1982, who gave birth to their daughter, Taylor Nicole in 1988.
Early Winston Cup career
Earnhardt began his professional career at the Winston Cup in 1975, making his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the longest race on the Cup circuit, the World 600. Earnhardt drove an Ed Negre Dodge Charger(#8) and finished 22nd in the race, one place ahead of his future car owner, Richard Childress. Earnhardt competed in 8 more races until 1979, when he joined car owner Rod Osterlund Racing, in a season that included a rookie class of future stars – Earnhardt, Harry Gant and Terry Labonte.
In his rookie season, Earnhardt won one race at Bristol, captured four poles, had 11 Top 5 finishes, 17 Top 10 finishes, and finished 7th in the points standings, in spite of missing four races because of a broken collarbone, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
In his sophomore season, Earnhardt, now with 20-year old Doug Richert as his crew chief, began the season winning the Busch Clash. With wins at Atlanta, Bristol, Nashville, Martinsville, and Charlotte, Earnhardt won his first Winston Cup championship. To this day, Earnhardt is the only driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to follow a Rookie of the Year title with a NASCAR Winston Cup Championship the next season. He was the second driver in NASCAR history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cup Series championship in his career, joining David Pearson and Richard Petty. Only 5 drivers have joined this exclusive club since – Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth.
In 1981, after Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy, Earnhardt left for Richard Childress Racing, and finished the season 7th in the points standings but winless. The following year, at Childress’ suggestion, Earnhardt joined car owner Bud Moore for the 1982 and 1983 seasons driving the No. 15 Wrangler Jeans Ford Thunderbird (Earnhardt’s only full-time Ford ride in his career). During the 1982 season, Earnhardt struggled. Although he won at Darlington, he failed to finish 15 races, and completed the season 12th in points, the worst of his career. He also suffered a broken knee cap at Pocono Raceway when he flipped after contact with Tim Richmond. In 1983, Earnhardt rebounded and won his first of 12 Twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races. Earnhardt won at Nashville and at Talladega, finishing eighth in the points standings.
Return to Richard Childress Racing
After the 1983 season, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress Racing, replacing Ricky Rudd in the #3. Rudd went to Bud Moore’s No. 15, replacing Earnhardt. Wrangler sponsored both drivers at their respective teams. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Earnhardt visited victory lane six times, at Talladega, Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol (twice), and Martinsville, where he finished fourth and eighth in the season standings, respectively.