Dale Earnhardt : biography
Fans began honoring Earnhardt by holding three fingers aloft on the third lap of every Daytona 500 race, a black screen of number 3 in the beginning of NASCAR Thunder 2002 before the EA Sports logo, and the television coverage of NASCAR on Fox and NASCAR on NBC went silent for each third lap from Rockingham to the following year’s race there in honor of Earnhardt. On-track incidents brought out the caution flag on the third lap. Three weeks later, Harvick scored his first career Cup win at Atlanta driving a car that had been prepared for Earnhardt. In the final lap of the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds, the same margin that Earnhardt had won over Bobby Labonte at the same race a year prior, and the images of Earnhardt’s longtime gas man, Danny "Chocolate" Myers, crying after the victory, Harvick’s tire-smoking burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers held aloft outside the driver’s window, and the Fox television call by Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip, concluding with "Gordon got loose, but he (Harvick) is gonna get him though, it’s Harvick! Harvick by inches!" are memorable to many NASCAR fans. The win was also considered cathartic for a sport whose epicenter had been ripped away. Earnhardt’s team won four races in the regular 2001 season, with Steve Park winning the Rockingham race one week after Earnhardt’s death. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip finished 1-2 in the series’ return to Daytona that July, the reverse of their Daytona 500 finish. Earnhardt, Jr. also won the fall races at Dover and Talladega.
Earnhardt was buried on his farm in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Earnhardt drove the No. 3 car for most of his career, spanning the early 1980s until his death in 2001. Although he had other sponsors during his career, his No. 3 is associated in fans’ minds with his last sponsor, GM Goodwrench, and his last color scheme — a predominantly black car with bold red and silver trim. The black and red No. 3 continues to be one of the most famous logos in North American motor racing.
A common misconception is that Richard Childress Racing "owns the rights" to the No. 3 in NASCAR competition (fueled by the fact that Kevin Harvick’s car has a little No. 3 as an homage to Earnhardt and the usage of the No. 3 on the Camping World Series truck of Ty Dillon), but in fact no team owns the rights to this or any other number: However, according to established NASCAR procedures, RCR would have priority over other teams if and when the time came to reuse the number. RCR owns the stylized No. 3 logos used during Earnhardt’s lifetime; however these rights may not prevent a future racing team from using a different No. 3 design. (Also, a new No. 3 team would most likely, in any case, need to create logos which fit with their sponsor’s logos.)
In 2004, ESPN released a made-for-TV movie entitled 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story which used a new (but similarly colored) No. 3 logo. The movie was a sympathetic portrayal of Earnhardt’s life, but the producers were sued for using the No. 3 logo. In December 2006, the ESPN lawsuit was settled, but details were not released to the public.
It is generally believed that current NASCAR owners have agreed never to use the No. 3 in Sprint Cup competition again, although this is not official NASCAR policy. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made two special appearances in 2002 in a No. 3 Busch Series car: these appearances were at the track where his father died (Daytona) and the track where his father made his first Winston Cup start (Charlotte). Earnhardt Jr. won the first of those two races, which was the season-opening event at Daytona. He also raced a No. 3 sponsored by Wrangler on July 2, 2010 for Richard Childress Racing at Daytona. In a green-white- checker finish he outran Joey Logano to win his second race in the 3.
Otherwise, the No. 3 was missing from the national touring series until September 5, 2009, when Austin Dillon, the 19-year-old grandson of Richard Childress debuted an RCR-owned No. 3 truck in the Camping World Truck Series. Austin Dillon and his younger brother Ty Dillon drove #3’s in various lower level competitions for several years, including the Camping World East Series. In 2012, Austin Dillon began driving the Nationwide Series full-time, using the #3. (He had previously used the #33 while driving that series part-time.)