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Dale Earnhardt, written off as washed up by many observers of Winston Cup racing, proved in 2000 that he might have an eighth series championship in him yet.

Driving for car owner Richard Childress in an unprecedented 17th season, Earnhardt chased champion Bobby Labonte right down to the wire last season, only faltering in the last 10 races of the season. Earnhardt ended up second in the championship for the third time in his 26-year career by piling up two wins, 13 top-5 and 24 top-10 finishes. The latter number equaled Labonte's, but the champion beat Earnhardt on consistency, nailing six more top-5 finishes.

The Kannapolis, N.C., native ran in the top-4 of the Winston Cup point standings in the second half of the season in pursuit of a record eighth championship. He finished every race in 2000 and returns with his crew, including chief mechanic Kevin Hamlin, intact.

He scored a thrilling last-lap win by inches over Labonte in the spring race at Atlanta, then charged from 18th place over the last five laps to win the fall Winston 500 at Talladega, in the process collecting the Winston "No Bull Five" $1 million bonus.

Earnhardt proved his mettle with a string of eight straight top-10 finishes in the middle of the season. At season's end he had won nearly million (,918,886), launching his motorsports leading career total over million.

While he still struggled in qualifying, Earnhardt returned to his competitive fire in race trim, leading 17 races a total of 38 times. After revitalizing his career in 1999, Earnhardt went one step beyond it in 2000. He proved the fire still burns for the man who has diversified his business interests beyond even the ownership of three Winston Cup teams for son Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Park and Michael Waltrip as well as a part-time operation for oldest son Kerry Earnhardt.

"The Intimidator's" seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series titles offer all the proof needed to those who question his place in history. His aggressive style has helped define a generation of drivers, those who run hard on Sunday then shake hands and exchange congratulations when all is said and done.

Earnhardt was the first driver in the history of the sport to win the rookie-of-the-year award and the series title at the Winston Cup level. He diversified one step further in 2001 when he competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, driving a factory-prepared Chevrolet Corvette with Earnhardt Jr.

He was the first three-time winner of the Winston Select (1987, 1990 and 1993) and won three IROC championships (1990, 1995 and 2000).

Earnhardt credited Rod Osterlund with giving him his biggest break, in 1978. He won the championship for Osterlund, his first, in 1980 before moving on to drive for Childress, for whom he has won six titles.

The 2001 season looked to be another stellar year for the legend, but he was tragically killed in the last lap of the season opener--the Daytona 500. For all who loved him, he died in a manner befitting a champion. His team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. took the top two spots in the race, and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. Earnhardt himself was holding back the pack and seemed to be in for a third-place finish, before the tragedy struck.

Dale was killed in a crash in the Daytona 500 on Feb 18, 2001. He hit the wall head on in the last turn and the last lap of the race
Dale died doing what he loved best Race

Earnhardt's last race a selfless act:

Strapped tightly into his legendary black car and wearing the open-faced helmet he preferred for comfort's sake, Earnhardt was relaxed and affable last Sunday as he waited on the starting grid for his 23rd Daytona 500.

Never for a moment did I think it would be my last glimpse of his familiar face.

Earnhardt, the driver who won more races than any other at Daytona, the driver who amassed seven Winston Cup titles and 76 wins over a 25-year career -- the driver who was husband to Teresa and father to Kerry, Kelly, Dale Jr. and Taylor Nicole -- never made it to the finish line. He left the track in an ambulance, fatally injured.

On the final lap, the man who understood the draft better than anyone else, backed off the lead pack behind Michael Waltrip and Dale Jr. to block the oncoming assault from Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt knew that taking his opponents three-wide would open the door for Waltrip and Junior to battle for the victory.

This wasn't the Dale Earnhardt who many times said that on a race track his son was just another competitor. This wasn't the Dale Earnhardt who said he probably would bump Junior's No. 8 out of the way if the black No. 3 had a chance to win. This was the ultimate act of selflessness from a driver who began the season with the deep-seated belief he would win his eighth Winston Cup championship.

That act of selflessness might have cost him his life.

Marlin, with an excellent chance to break a 149-race winless streak if he could get past Earnhardt, was doing his best to make a move. Earnhardt was doing his best to hold him off. As the cars roared into Turn 4, they bumped, and the No. 3 careened out of control and hit the concrete retaining wall with a brutal impact.

On the radio, silence.

Richard Childress, Earnhardt's team owner since 1984 and his friend before that, got no response to his anxious radio call to his driver's headset. Childress sent teammate Mike Skinner to the scene of the wreck. Still nothing. He radioed to Teresa ... to crew chief Kevin Hamlin ... someone, anyone, to get an answer, but nothing came.

In victory lane, Michael Waltrip, the newest member of the team Earnhardt owns, was celebrating his first Winston Cup win in 463 starts. The emotion between the brothers Waltrip -- Darrell called the race from the television booth -- was the highlight of the Fox broadcast.

No one knew that NASCAR's foremost driver sat lifeless as paramedics struggled to cut him from his wrecked car, which had come to rest on the grass in the tri-oval portion of the track. Earnhardt did not respond to efforts to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at 5:14 p.m. at nearby Halifax Medical Center, where he was taken by ambulance.

"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver ever, and I have lost a dear friend," said NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr.

As a young man, Earnhardt's potential was obvious to France. Recently, France talked from his heart about the contribution Earnhardt had made to the sport that the France family founded and even more about the respect he had for Earnhardt as a man.

And next to his father, Ralph, who died unexpectedly in 1973 before getting to see his son race in Winston Cup, it was France whom Earnhardt admired most.

"He helped me grow," Earnhardt said last month. "He helped me understand the sport better. Bill has always been a great leader and a great philosopher. The interesting thing about Bill is that he doesn't forget anything about people. He remembers a person's name, who they are, what they do and what they said, for that matter ... in 1940. He's been there. He's seen it. He's been up against these situations, and he knows what to expect and how to handle it."

Although it was Earnhardt who laid the groundwork for a formidable motorsports dynasty, it was "Billy's" guidance that took the scruffy factory worker from Kannapolis, N.C., and turned him into a legend. Earnhardt's wife, Teresa, who knew him best, said that part of the success was selling "Earnhardt" the image -- The Intimidator, who was feared on and off the track. Yet if Earnhardt respected someone and gained their trust, one couldn't ask for a truer friend.

Earnhardt also was a NASCAR loyalist. Despite the safety issues, despite the uneven distribution of TV money and despite any inequities among the manufacturers, Earnhardt refused to tarnish the name of the family or the sport that made him.

In an interview last month, Benny Parsons spoke of how much Earnhardt had evolved and matured since joining the Winston Cup ranks as a rookie in 1979.

"When he first came on the scene, I said he can't pull off representing a big company," Parsons said. "And boy, was I wrong there. Then I said he can't be consistent enough to win a championship -- he's too much of a hard charger, he runs too hard to win championships. And once again, I was wrong. He has been really, truly amazing with how he has grown as far as his ability to speak and get up in front of people and be very candid. He's also been amazing on the racetrack.

"I think Earnhardt has more fans than any one driver. I wouldn't dare say he has more than all the other drivers combined, but if you interviewed every fan that came through the gates for the Daytona 500 and they gave you an honest answer, I think Earnhardt would total up more than anyone else. Any time you have somebody that popular -- like Richard Petty or David Pearson -- then yes, they have a dramatic impact on the sport."

Childress and Earnhardt were just two simple racers from North Carolina. Off the track, they were friends. The two hunted and fished and enjoyed life. Childress often said their relationship was based on "the tremendous respect" they had for each other.

"It doesn't matter what it is, he doesn't like to lose," Childress said. "He just has a competitive nature. When you get down to the last 50 laps of a race, he knows how to dig deeper than any driver I know to make things happen."

Earnhardt had a work ethic second to none. He didn't give handouts to his first three children, choosing to share that same lesson with them. Kerry and Junior had to work at Earnhardt's Chevrolet dealership and on their own cars before earning the right to race -- just as Dad had. Earnhardt's oldest daughter, Kelly, raced as well, but she is currently a successful businesswoman with Action Performance, a racing collectibles business. When Earnhardt spoke of Kelly's newborn daughter, a softness that was unmatched came over his face.

Finally, with 12-year-old Taylor Nicole, Earnhardt had a chance to be the father he didn't have time to be to his other children. It wasn't unusual when Earnhardt was in town to see him pick up Taylor from school or take her hunting for deer on the family's 300-acre farm in Mooresville, N.C.

When I talked to Earnhardt last month, he could hardly contain his excitement of finding a vintage 1988 Corvette for Taylor -- the year she was born. He spoke of the low miles on the car and how it took him a year to find just the right one. She had a dream that "Daddy" had bought her a car.

The next day when she got home from school, she and Dad took a spin around the farm in her new Corvette. Earnhardt pointed to the car and bragged about how Taylor already was becoming a great little driver, how she parked the car perfectly on the showroom floor. Then he said how proud he was of all his children and how far they had come. He described the struggles of building Dale Earnhardt Inc., but he said it was worth it to ensure his children's future.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's unique to have all this, but I feel that Dale Earnhardt Jr. one day will be able to step in and run all this, and hopefully Kelly and Kerry and Taylor will all be involved too," Earnhardt said. "They'll all run this and race out of here and then do great. Hopefully after I retire from driving, I'll be a great car owner for several years, then I can turn this over to the kids and let them run it and race on."

Ned Jarrett, winner of 50 races over a 13-year career in Winston Cup racing, says Earnhardt was a champ. "In my opinion, and I've said this many times, he was the best race-car driver that ever raced," Jarrett says. "He had a tremendous amount of God-given talent, and he worked hard to get the most out of it. "Everybody respected the man for what he could do with a race car."

Jarrett says NASCAR doesn't need to delay or cancel the next race, which is at Rockingham, out of respect for Earnhardt. "The world doesn't stop because we lose somebody," he says. "He wouldn't want it that way. He would've wanted his son to be out there racing."

Jarrett has seen a lot of lives lost during his involvement with the sport. Earnhardt's death is the fourth in NASCAR series racing in the last 13 months. "It's just so hard to accept they're not there anymore," Jarrett says. "When you lose someone who accomplished so much to get the sport where it is today, it's tough. The man was dedicated to what he did. Every time he strapped himself into the race car, he went as hard as he could."

Fans in the infield at the Daytona 500 were in disbelief. "It's awful," said Kimberly Bennett, an Earnhardt fan who, with her dad, Neil, was wheeling away two souvenir tires from Earnhardt Jr.'s pit. "It makes your heart hurt, just thinking about it."

"It's put a shadow over this whole speedway," Neil Bennett, 41, said. "It's a tremendous loss to motorsports."

Kimberly drives Legends series cars in her native Stockton, Ga., and recently had painted her No. 21 car to look exactly the same as Earnhardt's No. 3, down to the black, white and red paint job. "I liked the way he talked when he came out of the car," says Kimberly, 15. "He always had something nice to say. And he was real competitive."

Jarrett says NASCAR doesn't need to re-evaluate its safety policy. "NASCAR does a good job of doing what it can to make those racecars as safe as possible," he says. "I guess you can only do so much. Certainly we've seen race cars torn up worse than his was and watched (the drivers) walk away. What safety measures could have prevented his death? I have no idea."

Earnhardt had reached a stage in his life where he was content. He couldn't fight middle age, so he accepted it and approached it with a grace that comes from a confidence that few obtain.

"Life changes as you go through it," he said. "Sure you have to focus on different things at different times in your career. I'm 49 years old, and I'm pretty comfortable in my life. Things don't really rattle me when someone comes up and says you're getting audited by the tax collector or you're losing a key member of the team or your sponsor is unhappy.

"What I do rather than get rattled is to analyze the situation, try to correct it or straighten the program out and go forward. A lot of things rattled me earlier in life, but as you get older, you get more experience. You try to take things in stride and have a good time."

Moments before his death, Dale Earnhardt was having a good time. He was mixing it up at Daytona, doing what he did best, loving every second of it

Spouse: Teresa
Kids: Dale Jr, Kerry, Kelley King, Taylor
Hometown: Kannapolis, NC
Birthdate: April 29, 1951
Hobbies: Hunting, Fishing Boating

Foundation For The Carolinas
in honor of Dale Earnhardt
PO Box 34769
Charlotte, NC 28234-4769


The Heaven 500, was just getting started,
an All-Star race, for the racing departed.
Heroes of the track, with nerves like steel,
and sitting on the pole, was a cat named Neil.
Adam Petty was there, with his beautiful smile,
Kenny Irwin determined, to finish in style.
Lee Petty was glowing, with that Grandfather pride,
with Bobby & Clifford, both in a new ride.
Fireball Roberts, floated in on a cloud,
while Tony Roper waved, to the Heavenly crowd.
Morrosso & Nemecheck, then Tim Richmond appeared,
Kulwicki strapped in, while the racing fans cheered.
The honorary starter, for this Heavenly race,
Ralph Earnhardt was chosen, a tear on his face.
But the red flag flew, just before it had begun,
and every eye, was open wide, and looking to the SON.
A last minute entry, was the cause of delay,
while the fans were instructed, to kneel and to pray.
The Heavens turned black, and the clouds turned dark,
the lightning was brilliant, the thunder did bark.
Then out of the rumble, for all there to see,
the clouds formed a number, a black number three.
The Heavenly fans, then erupted with pride,
and welcomed this star, who had recently died.
With a bolt of lightning, Dale Earnhardt arrived,
as he stood before Jesus, his spirit revived.
Jesus hugged his precious child, then revealed his perfect plan,
"I brought you home, to let you know, that I'm your biggest fan!"
"The Intimidator was needed, for this Heavenly race,
leaving all of your earthly fans, with honor & with grace."
Ralph Earnhardt then stepped forward, embracing his son,
then whispered in the ear of Dale, "Let's go and have some fun!"
As Ralph stood proud, the green flag flew,
the crowd went wild and the tension grew.
And just like Salvation, the admission was free,
as every eye focused, on the black number three.
When the checkered flag dropped, no dry eyes remained,
it was a photo finish, as Jesus explained.
He said, "There are no losers, on this Heavenly track,
this was a welcome home party, for The Man In Black!"

Year Races Wins Top 5 Top 10 Bud Poles Winnings Point Standings
2001 1 0 0 0 0 ,111 --
2000 34 2 13 24 0 ,918,886 2nd
1999 34 3 7 21 0 ,048,236 7th
1998 33 1 5 13 0 ,990,749 8th
1997 32 0 7 16 0 ,151,909 5th
1996 31 2 13 17 2 ,285,926 4th
1995 31 5 19 23 3 ,154,241 2nd
1994 31 4 20 25 2 ,300,733 1st
1993 30 6 17 21 2 ,353,789 1st
1992 29 1 6 15 1 $,463 12th
1991 29 4 14 21 0 ,396,685 1st
1990 29 9 18 23 4 ,083,056 1st
1989 29 5 14 19 0 $1,435,730 2nd
1988 29 3 13 19 0 $1,214,089 3rd
1987 29 11 21 24 1 ,099,243 1st
1986 29 5 16 23 1 $1,783,880 1st
1985 28 4 10 16 1 ,596 8th
1984 30 2 12 22 0 ,788 4th
1983 30 2 9 14 1 ,272 8th
1982 30 1 7 12 1 ,325 12th
1981 31 0 9 17 0 ,113 7th
1980 31 5 19 24 0 ,926 1st
1979 27 1 11 17 4 ,086 7th
1978 5 0 1 2 0 ,145 43rd
1977 1 0 0 0 0 $1,375 --
1976 2 0 0 0 0 ,085 --
1975 1 0 0 0 0 $1,925 --

1975: First career Winston Cup start came in World 600 on May 25. He finished 22nd.
1979: First career Winston Cup victory came on April 1 at Bristol; named Winston Cup rookie of year.
1980: In only his second full season, won first of seven career Winston Cup titles.
1986: Won second Winston Cup points title.
1987: Won third Winston Cup title after finishing first in 11 races.
1990: Won fourth Winston Cup title.
1991: Won fifth Winston Cup title.
1997: Failed to win a race for the first time in 15 years.
1998: In his 20th attempt, captured Daytona 500 for first time.
1999: Competed against son, Dale Jr., for the first time in a Winston Cup race on May 30 at Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Earnhardt Sr. finished sixth; his son was 16th.
2000: Picked up last win, taking the Winston 500 at Talladega on Oct. 15.

Good Guys Wear Black

E is for experience that comes along with many years
A is for achievement through tough times and the cheers
R is for record breaking speeds that the Intimidator demands
N is for never ending devotion from his many fans
H is for heart that he puts into every race
A is for amazing as he takes over first place
R is for the reliability that he has in his crew
D is for dedication in everything they do
T is for this tribute to The Man In Black

"Dale at Daytona"

He finally did it
He won the race
Daytona was the imfamous place
Two hundred laps are said and done
But in the end he finally won
He said it's Daytona
I'm not supposed to win it
But in the end
He finally did it

Life Goes On......

I found out after the Race.
Dale was killed suddenly and unexpectedly.
No more intimidating or swapping paint.
No more Victory Lane or saying "I will finish first".
Fans & Friends makes me carry on.
With death, a few weeks pass and the new Good Wrench car takes it's first win in memory of Dale.
You can see your team win, Dale, through your fans and my eyes.
With Nascar and trophies.
With a great team.
Those two things make me strong.
Building cars and racing.
Now we live with out you.
We stand at the track this great team.
I have fans that care and love me.
My fans and me planed a wonderful memorial
for you.
My dusty car and engine keep me in
the game.
I will be a winner,I've always dreamed, you
will see..
Our lives with you, Dale, will not be forgotten.
With all my experiences, I'll be a legend, when
it's my turn.
Thank you God for a great team & fans.
Life goes on.....

By: Derek Twigg

The fire still burns brightly within Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt had to quit.

It was August 3, 1996, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for once, Earnhardt could forgive himself for not fighting back the tears. Seven laps into the Brickyard 400, pain drove him from his famous No. 3 black Chevrolet. The G-forces at the high-speed track with the flat corners were too much for his broken collarbone.

The shoulder harnesses strapped tightly over Earnhardt's chest caused relentless pressure on his sternum. It had cracked like an egg a week earlier at Talladega in the worst wreck of his Winston Cup career, which now covers 26 years.

For the first time since 1979, when he was rookie of the year, Earnhardt couldn't finish what he started, couldn't exert the force of his will to mask the pain that wracked his body. Watching Mike Skinner take his place behind the wheel was one of the low points of Earnhardt's life.

Dale Earnhardt is not a quitter.

Two weeks after the Talladega crash and six days after the devastation of Indianapolis, Earnhardt showed why he is hard core. He made a stirring return at Watkins Glen, winning the pole and setting a track record on the 2.45-mile road course. His body still ached on race day, but he twisted and turned left and right all afternoon and finished sixth.

That's hard core.

The Earnhardt mystique -- his intimidating drive-till-you-drop, win-at-all-costs mentality -- is nothing if not hard core. Hard core means manhandling a 10th-place car all the way to victory lane. Hard core means the last thing another driver wants to see is the black No. 3 filling his rearview mirror. Hard core means a threshold of pain matched only by the will to win. Hard core means racing for the approval of a father who died far too young -- as he worked on a car -- nearly 28 years ago.

Hard core means Earnhardt, who turns 50 in April, thinks he can win an eighth Winston Cup championship, a feat that would distinguish him from all past champions, including Richard Petty.

But hard core also means sacrifice. More often than Earnhardt would care to admit, being the best damned driver in NASCAR's Winston Cup Series has taken precedence over everything else in his life. The children of his first two marriages have borne the brunt of his dedication to his profession. Earnhardt acknowledges that, and he is trying to make up for lost time.

He lists his life's priorities as God, family and the No. 3 Monte Carlo, in that order. But in the final laps of a close race, friends and family fade to black against the overpowering compulsion to win. And God help any driver unfortunate enough to stand between Earnhardt and the checkered flag.

"I focus and give everything I can to the driving of the No. 3 car," Earnhardt says. "That had better be the priority in life. I probably couldn't do nothing if I didn't believe (in God) and have all my priorities in order."

That focus and discipline are why Earnhardt can win his eighth championship this season, which would give him the best seat in the house -- the head table of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York -- at the Winston Cup awards banquet in December. "It would be a great first-time thing," Earnhardt says of turning 50 and winning the championship. "That would be neat."

Three of Dale Earnhardt's most prized possessions are displayed in his office -- photographs of his hero and father, Ralph Earnhardt, the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman champion who died after a heart attack in 1973. One is a typical racing portrait. Another shows Ralph working on his race car in the garage of the family home at the corner of Coach and Sedan streets in Kannapolis, N.C. The third, which brings a warm smile to Earnhardt's face, is a shot of father and son racing against each other at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte.

"Dad taught me the most," Earnhardt says. "He was the kind of guy that .... you knew he loved you, but ... he was a strong person ... he didn't say that. He didn't say he loved you all the time. He didn't have to.

"I try to tell my kids, Dale Jr., Kerry and Kelley, I love them. I make sure I say it because maybe I didn't hear it enough. But I knew he loved us. I could tell by the way he provided for us and the things he did for me when I was a child."

Earnhardt has achieved a level of success his father never had a chance to enjoy. With an annual income estimated at .5 million and three race teams of his own -- he fields Winston Cup cars for Dale Jr., Steve Park and Michael Waltrip -- Earnhardt can afford to devote more of his energy to family life.

But as comfortable as Earnhardt has become -- from his beginnings as a factory worker in the textile mill town of Kannapolis to his 300-plus-acre farm nestled on the outskirts of Mooresville, N.C. -- he knows time is running out on his opportunity to win the elusive eighth championship.

Winston Cup's oldest former champion is Bobby Allison, who won the title in 1983 at 45 years, 352 days -- 127 days older than Lee Petty was when he won his third championship in 1959. Allison doesn't think age will be an impediment to Earnhardt's quest this season.

"It would be a quite a feat," says Allison, who was 50 when he won this third Daytona 500. "It would be enjoyable for a lot of people, including myself. I really feel that Earnhardt's success is a direct product of his personal commitment to be the best. His style is unique in itself. He has total determination. Earnhardt has had a remarkable career, but a lot of the credit has to go to Richard Childress. The basic team effort has always been there."

Childress, who owns the cars Earnhardt drives, has been an integral part of six of Earnhardt's seven championships, but their friendship began before "R.C." became his boss. They've known each other for years and often hunted together, though their busy schedules make it more difficult now.

"It doesn't matter what it is, he doesn't like to lose," Childress says. "He just has a competitive nature. When you get down to the last 50 laps of a race, he knows how to dig deeper than any driver I know to make things happen.

"Dale's as focused on that race car right now as he was 10 years ago. He wants to win races, and he wants that eighth championship. He knows if we keep trying and working as hard as we did last year, and he keeps his focus, that it will happen."

The 2000 season marked the return of Earnhardt and Childress as contenders for the Winston Cup championship, a surprise to many considering the lean years of 1996-98 and the fact Earnhardt last won a championship in 1994. Missing from the equation during those hard times was the chemistry between Earnhardt and his crew chief.

Kirk Shelmerdine, who called the shots in the pits during four championship seasons, left in 1992 to pursue a driving career. Andy Petree filled the void, and Earnhardt won his sixth and seventh titles in 1993 and 1994, but Petree departed in 1995 to form his own team.

During the next 2 1/2 years, Earnhardt auditioned three crew chiefs with disappointing results. In 1996, he won only two races. In 1997, he didn't win any, ending a 15-year streak of at least one victory in each season. That also was the year that Earnhardt blacked out at the beginning of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. To this day, he doesn't remember taking the green flag. Many thought his career was over.

Finally, in June 1998, when a bizarre trade of crew chiefs sent Larry McReynolds to Skinner and brought Kevin Hamlin on board with the No. 3 team, Earnhardt seemed to find the right combination.

"Look at my career over the years. I've won and lost and won and lost, and the championships have come," Earnhardt says. "But it has taken a total team effort, where everyone is confident and comfortable with each other. Then you lose a crew chief like Kirk Shelmerdine and a leader like Andy Petree (and) the rest of the team unravels. Unless you can bring someone in, or you can hold the team together and keep that confidence level up, the team may not work as hard because they stop believing.

"We've turned a corner, and we're on the straightaway now. We had to wake up and open our eyes. We couldn't keep making the same mistakes. Everybody is in line to have a good year. It should be a great year for us because Kevin and myself are working well together, and the team confidence between all of us is better than it's ever been. And I feel good."

That hasn't always been the case. After the crash in 1996 at Talladega, Earnhardt's nagging aches and pains were exacerbated by a crash in March 1999 at Atlanta, where he blew a tire and hit the wall coming out of Turn 3. Earnhardt experienced a numbness in his hands and arms throughout the season, especially in the closing laps of races. He nearly couldn't get out of bed without a dose of Advil. At the end of the season, Earnhardt underwent back surgery, and the transformation was miraculous -- on the track and off.

"You look at my last year and think about it ... think about it," Earnhardt says. "Here we are, we won races, we finished second in the points, we had a great year. But look at my life past that."

Kerry Earnhardt won his first race -- an ARCA event at Pocono -- and qualified for a Winston Cup event, the August race at Michigan. That afternoon, the proud father finished sixth, Junior 31st and Kerry 43rd.

Dale Jr. won his first Winston Cup race, dominating at Texas in his 12th career start. He won four races later at Richmond and followed that with a victory in The Winston. He won two poles and finished 16th in points.

Park won his first Winston Cup race, finding victory lane at Watkins Glen. He finished in the top 10 in nine of the next 13 races and wound up 11th in points. He won two poles.

Ron Hornaday, who drove for Earnhardt last season in the Busch Series, won his first Busch race and added another victory and two poles. He finished fifth in points.
"Every team I was involved with won races," Earnhardt says. "I should have gotten some damn award for being the winningest owner in car racing -- and I didn't get money for nothing -- and it was one hell of an investment.

"Think about it. Has anybody else ever done that? Won in ARCA, Busch and Winston Cup, plus his own wins? Have all of Roush's teams won in the same year? Have Hendrick's?"

Earnhardt's work ethic is second to none -- a trait he attributes to his German roots. He often arrives at the office before the sun rises to get a head start on the day. Even as he sits, finishing his lunch of prime rib and mashed potatoes at Chez Intimidator overlooking the DEI ballroom below, he is compulsively cleaning up the gravy that has spilled on the table.

"My daddy worked and raced hard," he says. "He did a lot with a little. I know you have to invest to be able to do a good job. You can't have a team and say, 'Well, you can only have four sets of tires,' when they need five or six. You have to give them resources -- the parts, the people, the direction. You can overspend and still not win. You can buy this and buy that and still not win. It's hard to buy success.

"Success comes from hard work and team effort. That's why Steve Park won. That's why Dale Jr. won. That's why Ron Hornaday won. That's why Kerry won. And that's why I won. It's a team effort, and it takes a lot of support from behind the scenes, direction from the owner to myself on down through the company. Everyone executing their jobs properly and believing -- believing -- we can win."

When Dale Earnhardt made his debut in 1975 in the World 600 at Charlotte, Benny Parsons wasn't a believer. Parsons, now an analyst for NBC, won a Winston Cup title in 1973, and he didn't think Earnhardt had the stuff to be a champion.

"I said he can't pull off representing a big company," Parsons says. "And, boy, was I wrong. Then I said he can't be consistent enough to win a championship -- he's too much of a hard charger; he runs too hard to win championships. And once again, I was wrong. He has been truly amazing with how he has grown as far as his ability to speak and get up in front of people and be very candid. He's also been amazing on the race track."

Earnhardt is at his best on the biggest tracks -- Daytona and Talladega. He is the all-time leader in wins at both tracks, but he has been especially dominant at Daytona, where he has victories in 34 events, including qualifying races, non-points races, IROC events -- and one Daytona 500. Last fall at Talladega, Earnhardt swept from 18th place to victory in the last five laps for his 10th Winston Cup win at the track.

"I didn't realize this when Earnhardt first started, but after watching him for the last 20 years, his ability on the superspeedways with the draft is simply incredible," Parsons says. "He may not have won the Daytona 500 until a few years ago (1998), but he won everything else there was there. To me, his ability on those race tracks has been nothing short of miraculous."

Before he turns 50 on April 29, Earnhardt is on target to tie Terry Labonte's record of most consecutive Winston Cup starts (655) when the series visits Martinsville Speedway on April 8. He should set a new standard in the next race, two weeks later at Talladega. Though Earnhardt (76 wins) never will match Petty's career record of 200, this is Earnhardt's best chance to win the championship since 1994, which would give him the most Winston Cup titles, breaking a tie with Petty.

And, of course, that will add fuel to the debate that Earnhardt is the best driver of all-time.

"I'm not trying to win an eighth championship to prove that I'm the best," Earnhardt says. "I'm trying to win that eighth championship because it's there to win. When and if I do win it, it will be a great accomplishment, and I'll be proud of it. But I don't think it will make me the best driver all around. There are still a lot of guys like Richard Petty who have done a lot of things that I've never done.

"I'm 49 years old, and I feel like I can win races and win championships right on. I don't feel like there is an end to my career in sight in the next couple of years. I'm still as competitive and excited about racing as ever."

With that kind of confidence, who can deny The Intimidator?

Well, didn't Jeremy Mayfield knock him out of the way on the last lap to win the Pocono race last June?

"There's no one who scares me when I see them in my mirror," Earnhardt says. "I let my guard down with Mayfield a little too much. He didn't really 'Earnhardt' Earnhardt. If I had nudged him like he nudged me, he would have wrecked."

Perhaps no one understands the depth of Earnhardt's determination better than Dale Jr. The same Dale Jr. who won two races last year in his rookie season -- one more than his father did as a rookie in 1979. The same Dale Jr. his father lists No. 3 among his list of top five drivers for the future -- behind Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

"Dad is still pretty hard core," Dale Jr. says. "He always will be. He needs to be, or I wouldn't be worth a damn. He's come around, and we're a lot closer. But he's not coming up to me, patting me on the back and saying, 'You're so good,' or 'Good job.'"


"Junior -- he's just another driver," Earnhardt says. "Yeah, I'm proud of him, but on the track, he's just another competitor."

Just another driver standing between

Last night I had a crazy dream
A wish was granted just for me
It could be for anything
I didn't ask for money
Or a mansion by the pool
I simply wished to see
The black #3, one more time

One more race one more win
One more lap maybe I'd be satisfied
But I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still
For one more race

First thing I'd do, is pray for time to stop
I'd keep the TV off, on that black Sunday
I'd let you know, what a hero you were to millions
And just how much all your fans would miss you

That is what I'd do, with one more day
One more race, one more win
One more lap maybe I'd be satisfied
But I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still
For one more race

Remembering a Legend
Needs Redone, will be soon

> A fine Daytona afternoon, the season just begun.
> My boys were running one and two, and I was having fun.
> I probably could have won the thing, but something held me back.
> I was busy watching Dale and Mike -- and holding off the pack.
> I was looking toward the front and not really to the rear.
> Something tapped me on my bumper, but still I had no fear.
> I thought it might be Sterling - I knew he was nearby.
> When Sterling smells the checkered flag, I'll tell you, he ain't shy.
> I slipped a bit. I turned the wheel. I sensed something very odd.
> It wasn't Sterling's tap I'd felt. It was the tap of God.
> "Not now," I said. "I'm racing hard. There's work still here to do."
> "Your time is up," He whispered low, "So say a quick adieu."
> I wasn't really ready, but I didn't have a choice.
> He'd tapped me on the bumper and I'd heard His hallowed voice.
> So I did as He instructed. I just packed it in and left.
> I guess it can't be helped that I left some of you bereft.
> Did you see those birds upon the wall as they scattered in the breeze?
> Will it make it any easier to know that they were me?
> There was also Davey, Dad and Neil and some other guys I've known.
> And they all came to Daytona just to escort me on home.
> Hey - congratulations, Mikey! You made a worthy run.
> I wish you many, many more. You're wins have just begun.
> All that fun you had in Victory Lane, I was proud as proud can be.
> Did you see a seagull flying low? Yeah, Mikey, that was me.
> So, friends and fans and family, don't mourn me for too long.
> Get on with life - take care of things - be brave and proud and strong
> I'll surely miss you every one. About that I will not lie.
> But as long as you remember me - I didn't really die.