Dale Earnhardt won 1979 NASCAR “Rookie of the Year”. A year later, he won the 1980 NASCAR championship, the only driver to ever do both consecutively. He dropped out of school in 9th Grade against his fathers wishes who put him to work in his shop, preparing dirt track race cars. His driving career would redefine NASCAR and he became a wildly popular driver. He would win 7 Championships, tied for most ever with Richard Petty. After 20 attempts, he won the “Daytona 500” and every member of every pit crew lined up to shake his hand on his way to victory lane. Earnhardt then drove onto the infield, making tire tracks in the shape of a #3 in the grass.
In 2001, on the last turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt crashed into the wall and was killed. Fans were in disbelief. North Carolina grieved.
Today, leaving Interstate 85 at Exit 60 to Kannapolis, you can follow the “Dale Trail”, watch the single “A” baseball team, the Kannapolis “Intimidators”, and eventually end up here on “Glory Road” at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There are 19 cars, including this 1996 #3 Chevy. This first floor display ends in a 33 degree bank like Talladega. The cars are real , the fans only a display but walking up the ramp, you’ll eventually reach the “Hall of Fame”, where Dale was inducted along with Junior Johnson and Richard Petty in 2010. There is a later model, black #3 Chevy there.
Ahead of his father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the 2001 Daytona 500, behind another driver for the Dale Earnhardt Team. In 2004, he won.
The first “live” US national television broadcast of a 500 mile auto race was in 1979. Until then, even the INDY 500 was shown on tape delay and then only portions of the race. Held in Florida on 18 February, the “Daytona 500” was seen by a lot of new viewers, stuck indoors due to a major snowstorm in the Midwest and Northeast. New “in car” cameras were first used. Some think it was the most important in NASCAR history because of the new audience and the finish. On the last lap, the car above and another driven by Donnie Allison “got into it” for the second time that day. Previously, Yarborough had repaired his car and made up the lost laps. Both cars now crashed, ending up in the infield while Richard Petty, a half lap behind, won the race. Still on live national television, a fight started between Cale Yarborough and brothers Donnie and Bobby Allison. It was a real fight too, with fists, helmets and blood. Next day, it was the front page story of the New York Times Sports section.
Cale said “I was going to pass him and win the race, but he turned left and crashed me. So, hell, I crashed him back. If I wasn’t going to get back around, he wasn’t either.” There was a reason that Cale was driving for Junior Johnson. Cale had a pretty good year during the rest of the season but he and a lot of other drivers would be getting familiar with a new driver, one who would be named 1979’s Rookie Of The Year, Dale Earnhardt.
Disclaimer: Like most museums, tripods aren’t allowed and there are crowds and ropes and less than great conditions to photograph. Not a great photograph but a great story.
Woods Brothers Racing had two race requirements from its driver David Pearson aka “The Silver Fox”. First, a stick of chewing gun for each 100 miles of the race was taped to the dash. Second, install a cigarette lighter.
“You’d be out here at Darlington with 50 laps to go. It’s 95 degrees outside and you’re just dying,” said Pearson’s archrival, Richard Petty. “And then David would go blowing by you and he’s driving with one hand and lighting a cigarette with the other. You knew you were in trouble then.”
Two years ago, 73 year old Pearson drove this car around a refurbished Darlington for a demonstration. He drove in front of a modern race car driven by Carl Edwards. Pearson drove about as fast as 1972 and would have gone faster on the newly surfaced track but his tires were older than the other driver. The duct taped chewing gum and cigarette lighter are visible below. Edwards had neither.