After two decades of trying, stock-car racing great Dale Earnhardt finally wins his first Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier event, on this day in 1998.
Earnhardt was born April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His father was a race car driver and Dale dropped out of high school to pursue racing. In 1979, he was named the Winston Cup (now called the NEXTEL Cup) Rookie of the Year. The following year, Earnhardt captured his first Winston Cup championship, a title he went on to win again in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994. Earnhardt developed a reputation as a fierce competitor and was nicknamed “The Intimidator.” He was also credited with helping to turn NASCAR racing into one of America’s most popular professional sports.
Despite his success on the Winston Cup circuit, victory at the Daytona 500, dubbed the “Super Bowl of NASCAR,” eluded Earnhardt for years due to crashes, mechanical problems and other issues. However, on February 15, 1998, he finally tasted success at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. That day, he drove his No. 3 black Chevrolet to first place and over a million dollars in prize money. After the race, crew members from each racing team lined up to shake Earnhardt’s hand. He then drove onto the infield and spun his car in the grass.
Earnhardt’s career ended tragically on February 18, 2001, when he died during a crash in the last lap of the Daytona 500. It was his 23rd time at the race. Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr., finished the race in second place, and went on to become a superstar in the racing world like his father. He won his first Daytona 500 in 2004.