Dale Earnhardt : biography
From February 3, 2001, to February 4, 2001, Earnhardt participated in the Rolex 24 endurance race at the Daytona International Speedway. The team composed of Earnhardt, Earnhardt, Jr., Andy Pilgrim, and Kelly Collins finished 4th overall and 2nd in class.; Retrieved January 2, 2011.
At the 2001 Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, Earnhardt started in 7th place. He was involved in an accident during the final lap, in which Earnhardt’s car was turned from behind after contacting the car driven by Sterling Marlin into the outside wall nose-first, into the path of Ken Schrader’s car. Michael Waltrip won the race, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in second place. Earnhardt, Sr. and Schrader slid off the track’s asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. Earnhardt Sr. was taken to Halifax Medical Center after he was extricated from his car, and was pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m. Hours later, Mike Helton, president of NASCAR announced to the officials, drivers and fans that Earnhardt had died from the accident. He was 49 years old.; Dave Rodman, Turner Sports Interactive, February 21, 2001; NASCAR.com. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
An autopsy concluded that Earnhardt died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Earnhardt’s funeral was held on February 22, 2001, at the Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
After Earnhardt’s death, a police investigation and a NASCAR-sanctioned investigation commenced; nearly every detail of the crash was made public. The allegations of seatbelt failure resulted in Bill Simpson’s resignation from the company bearing his name, which manufactured the seatbelts used in Earnhardt’s car and nearly every other NASCAR driver’s car.Daytona: From the Birth of Speed to the Death of the Man in Black. Hinton, Ed. Warner Books, 2001. ISBN 0-446-52677-0.
The effects that Earnhardt’s death had over motorsports and the media frenzy that followed not just in the United States, but all over the world- were massive. Motorsport had not seen a death that had this magnitude of after-effects since Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994. Dale Earnhardt won the NASCAR Talladega race in 1994 on the day that Senna was killed and in victory lane he sent sorrows to the Senna family.
The 2001 Daytona 500 also saw Dale Earnhardt encounter a rookie Kurt Busch on lap 86. On lap 86 Kurt Busch made contact with Earnhardt which nearly caused a crash. Both saved it but Earnhardt stuck his hand out the window to give Kurt the profane finger gesture to express displeasure. When Earnhardt died Kurt Busch said that was the first and only time he drove with Earnhardt.
NASCAR implemented rigorous safety improvements, such as making the HANS device mandatory for the race cars- which was previously optional; Earnhardt had refused to wear it because he found it restrictive and uncomfortable. Several press conferences were held in the days following Earnhardt’s death. Some angry Earnhardt fans wrote hate letters and death threats to Sterling Marlin. In response, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. absolved Marlin of any responsibility.
Richard Childress made a public pledge that the number 3 would never again adorn the side of a black car sponsored by GM Goodwrench. Childress, who currently holds the rights from NASCAR to the No. 3, has placed a moratorium on using it. Earnhardt’s team was re-christened as the No. 29 team, with the same sponsor but with a new look (a reversed color scheme – white with black numerals and a black stripe on the bottom) for the following races at Rockingham and Las Vegas. For Atlanta, a new GM Goodwrench scheme was introduced, with angled red stripes and a thin blue pinstripe, resembling the Childress AC Delco Chevrolets driven in the Busch Series.
Childress’ second-year Busch Series driver Kevin Harvick was named as Earnhardt’s replacement driver, beginning with the race following Earnhardt’s death held at the North Carolina Speedway. Special pennants bearing the No. 3 were distributed to everyone at the track to honor Earnhardt, and the Childress team wore blank uniforms out of respect, something which disappeared quickly and was soon replaced by the previous GM Goodwrench Service Plus uniforms. The Earnhardt team car, the RCR number 29 Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick, still always displays the Earnhardt stylized number 3 on the "B" posts (metal portion on each side of the car to the rear of the front windows) above the number 29.