Dale Earnhardt: Essence of the Intimidator, father and friend


EDITOR’S NOTE: NBC Sports will take a look at the life, legacy, and long-lasting impact of Dale Earnhardt, who died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. This is the first in an oral history series that remembers “The Intimidator” though the voices of those who knew the seven-time Cup Series champion, who remains one of the biggest icons in NASCAR history.

Many have tried to define Dale Earnhardt, explain the essence of the man behind the reflective sunglasses and thick mustache, whose mill town upbringing resonated with the everyday man even as Earnhardt did remarkable things with the black No. 3 Chevrolet.

There were those who viewed Earnhardt as NASCAR’s Elvis for the fervor his fans showed. Some looked at him as the sport’s Babe Ruth for being among the best at what he did. Others compared him to James Dean, whose time ended well before it should have.

Twenty years after his death in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500, Earnhardt remains a relevant figure in NASCAR that time has enhanced, not forgotten. Many continue to try to explain who Earnhardt was to those who didn’t witness his greatness on the track and the person off it.

The fact is, he was simply Dale.

What does that mean?

Let these people explain:

Humpy Wheeler (former general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2006 interview): Dale Earnhardt was the last working-man driver that we had. The guy running the backhoe and the shrimp boat captain and the carpenter, people out there working with their hands, they loved Earnhardt.

Ken Squier (during the 2001 broadcast of Earnhardt’s memorial service): I’ve always thought part of the magic of Dale Earnhardt was that he was the common man who did uncommon things. He was everybody who ever had a dream. He was the one with the focus and concentration and strength to live out his dream and take it to the greatest heights. … He was that John Wayne character that wasn’t a fictitious character on the screen. This was for real.

Kyle Petty: He came in like Darrell (Waltrip) did. “I’m here, you gotta make room.” That’s kind of the way Darrell came in. He didn’t tiptoe in. Earnhardt didn’t tiptoe in. Did that ruffle feathers? I don’t ever remember my dad’s feathers being ruffled. You know what I mean? I just don’t. I just don’t ever remember, especially it from Dale. It was just like, “OK, there’s another guy that we got to race against that is good that we got to beat.”

Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt’s last NASCAR Cup victory came in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Dale Jarrett: The superstars don’t take no for an answer in their quest to be the best, and Dale was exactly that. He wasn’t letting anything get in his way. He did things his way.

Jeff Gordon (in 2006 interview): A Babe Ruth figure, that’s the way I look at him. He’s probably the best driver I’ve ever raced against, and certainly the way he left the sport is something that’s only going to leave his persona at an even higher level. He still had things to accomplish, he still had things he wanted to do. The fact that we didn’t get to see that happen is only going to continue to make him larger than life.

Felix Sabates (former car owner in a 2006 interview): In a way, Dale dying did a lot for the sport. Jesus dying did a lot for Christianity. No, no, no, I don’t compare him to Jesus. I compare him to Elvis. You know, I know Burt Reynolds, that probably is a good comparison. Because Burt has the personality Dale had.

Kurt Busch: Senior did everything. He did it right. The way he went about himself with the Intimidator look and driving style, it was always there. He did it with the officials. He did it with the manufacturers. Then he had that swagger and that smirk to know what he was capable of at all times. He just nailed it everywhere he went.

I was a kid growing up in Vegas watching races. He was who we rooted for. My dad loved his driving style. I tried to emulate it and that’s what got me in trouble early in my career. Who is this 22-year-old punk acting like he’s going to move people out of the way and then just lip off afterwards and walk away? Yeah, you could do it, but you could only do it if you were Dale Sr.


Billy Scott (a friend of Earnhardt in a 2000 interview with the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C.): Really back when Dale was young and we really didn’t have money to go out and eat steak, we’d eat a lot of tomato sandwiches and stuff like that back in them days. Dale, to me, has never forgotten where he’s come from. He’s proved that by coming to see us. He told us he would never forget us and never would forget where he had come from. That’s been true.

Bill Malcolm (He told the News & Record in 2010 that he often stopped at a gas station for coffee on his way to work in the mid-1980s. Some days, Malcolm arrived before it opened at 6 a.m. Earnhardt was there early now and then, buying a Sundrop): At first, I really didn’t realize who he was. He would pull in. I would pull in. He would talk about his family, and I would talk about our family. We didn’t talk much about racing. We would talk a while, and I would go to work and he would go out on the farm. He was so proud of it. I can remember him telling me, “One more payment, Bill, and I’ll have this farm paid off.”

Atlanta Journal 500
Dale Earnhardt celebrates his fourth Cup Championship with wife Teresa Earnhardt and daughter Taylor Earnhardt after the Atlanta Journal 500 on Nov. 18, 1990. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

Dale Beaver (Motor Racing Outreach chaplain from 1999-2005): MRO did this thing called the Father’s Day Olympics (each year at the track). It was always a big deal at the track. Miss Jackie (Pegram), I don’t know how she did it. Miss Jackie was able to get to come to that and just do the goofiest things with (daughter) Taylor when she was little. … She got him to sit down and put like a tablecloth around his neck and Taylor put whip cream or shaving cream all over his face and stuck Cap’n Crunch cereal or whatever it was on. I forget exactly what the object of the game was, but then he gets up from the chair, we all had a big laugh and Taylor is having a ball because now her dad is chasing Miss Jackie, trying to get whipped cream or shaving cream on her.

Kyle Petty: Only him and Neil Bonnett were best buds. We were friends. His dad raced. My dad raced. We raced. Started that same year although I was 10 or 12 years younger or whatever, but we talked just like all drivers talked. We found ourselves in positions and places a lot. And then Junior came along and Adam came along. Man, we found ourselves talking about what they had done at Myrtle Beach or what this had happened because they raced together some times. You just talked about junk and how Junior was doing and how Adam was doing.

Dale Beaver (on the first time he met Earnhardt, asking Earnhardt to sign a permission slip so Taylor could go on a MRO camping trip in 1999): He’s about to qualify. He’s sitting at a table (in the back of the team’s hauler) peeling an orange. … He said, “Come here, I want to ask you about that trip you’re going to take Taylor on.” … We talked for a few minutes about just being dads and how it’s very important that Taylor was going to be somewhere she was going to be secure, who all was going to be there. … I remember looking at him saying, “Dale, I’ve got two boys and I don’t even want them walking across the street without them holding my hand.” He’s like, “You’re exactly right.” He got to talking to me that just the fact “that you blink … and they grow up and they’re not kids anymore. You better keep them safe and take care of them for as long as you can.”


Earnhardt/Childress NASCAR 1998
Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress at Daytona in 1998. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Richard Childress: Not only did he impress me on the race track, he impressed me with so many things that he’d done for people away from the track that people would never ever know about. All of those things. That’s where he had a heart of gold.

Don Hawk (Dale Earnhardt Inc. president from 1993-2001): What you saw – the intimidating, swaggering Earnhardt – that was 100 percent real. It wasn’t an act. He literally drove the same way. His walk and talk and swagger was always consistent. He didn’t give you an inch off the track or an inch on the track. I’m talking about competitively. Because there’s a side of him that was so cool, and I’ve seen personal things that he’s done to help people or churches or stuff like that, and you’d go, “Wow. That’s the same guy?” Yeah, that’s the same guy. But he would do it almost like the Bible says: Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When Dale did a good deed for somebody, he tried to do it as quietly as possible.

Dave Marcis (2020 interview with NBC Sports): We were at Darlington one time and I wanted to ask him to sponsor my car at North Wilkesboro. I finally got the nerve to go up to him and told him, “Dale, you need to sponsor my car at Wilkesboro with Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet.” He asked how much did I want. I told him $2,500. He said that wasn’t enough. He never said another word the rest of the weekend to me about it. … About two weeks later, the mail came and he sent me $5,000. You just never knew what to expect from him.

Kyle Petty: We’re out in Riverside (in 1980) riding go-karts with all the R.J. Reynolds people one night. … He got up somehow on top of my go-kart and we kind of got hung together. When it was over with and we got everything off, my pants were ripped from just below my knee and all the way down. I had a pair of cowboy boots and whatever was sharp was under that thing slit my cowboy boots from the top to the bottom like a razor. If it got in my leg, I’d still be in the hospital.

We looked at it and kind of laughed about it and I’m like, “You just ruined my cowboy boots. I just bought these cowboy boots.” … We laughed about it and we joked about it and he never said anything. He just walked over the next week to the truck and said, “I got these for you,” and that was the end of the conversation. So, somewhere it bothered him that he had messed up those cowboy boots. That was the kind of guy he was. You thought he didn’t have a conscience, but he had a conscience.

Don Hawk (Dale Earnhardt Inc. president from 1993-2001):  This man came to the gate of DEI, back in the old days before Garage Mahal, it was just a chain-link fence gate. But it was remote controlled by the office with two-way glass. We could see out, they couldn’t see in. At the gate, this man gets out and is standing at the gate looking, and Earnhardt says, “Huh. Open the gate.” I said, “Dale, I don’t know who it is.” He said, “I know who it is, I can’t believe it. Let me feel it out first.” …

The man proceeds to explain to him, “Dale, I know the last time you saw me was over 15 years ago, and I was a drunk. I want you to know I’ve been a dozen years sober, I’m now a preacher at this small church, and I just wanted you to know that I was such a bad example to you, what happened in my life. It just mattered to me to come tell you that.” Dale asked about what kind of church. Dale knew I was religious and asked what I thought. Told him I thought it was legitimate. I’d driven by the church, and it was old and rough.

The guy said, “Yeah, I took it over, and we park right there in the grass.” Dale said, “What do you mean you park in the grass?” He said, “We can’t afford a parking lot, but that’s OK.” We get done talking, Dale takes the guy for a ride around the property, brings him back in my office, and says, “Talk to Hawk for a couple of minutes, I’ll be back.”

He comes back in with a brown bag full of cash and said, “Turn that grass into a parking lot and don’t tell anyone I gave it to you.”

Nate Ryan contributed to this story

Dr. Diandra: How level is the playing field after 50 Next Gen races?


Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks 50 Next Gen races. The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, including a few first-career wins. Let’s see what the data say about how level the playing field is now.

I’m comparing the first 50 Next Gen races (the 2022 season plus the first 14 races of 2023) to the 2020 season and the first 14 races of 2021. I selected those two sets of races to produce roughly the same types of tracks. I focus on top-10 finishes as a metric for performance. Below, I show the top-10 finishes for the 13 drivers who ran for the same team over the periods in question.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars, limited to drivers who ran for the same team the entire time.

Because some drivers missed races, I compare top-10 rates: the number of top-10 finishes divided by the number of races run. The graph below shows changes in top-10 rates for the drivers who fared the worst with the Next Gen car.

A graph showing drivers who have done better in the next-gen car than the Gen-6 car.

Six drivers had double-digit losses in their top-10 rates. Kevin Harvick had the largest drop, with 74% top-10 finishes in the Gen-6 sample but only 46% top-10 finishes in the first 50 Next Gen races.

Kyle Larson didn’t qualify for the graph because he ran only four races in 2020. I thought it notable, however, that despite moving from the now-defunct Chip Ganassi NASCAR team to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson’s top-10 rate fell from 66.7% to 48.0%.

The next graph shows the corresponding data for drivers who improved their finishes in the Next Gen car. This graph again includes only drivers who stayed with the same team.

A graph showing the drivers who have fewer top-10 finishes in the Next Gen car than the Gen-6 car

Alex Bowman had a marginal gain, but he missed six races this year. Therefore, his percent change value is less robust than other drivers’ numbers.

Expanding the field

I added drivers who changed teams to the dataset and highlighted them in gray.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

A couple notes on the new additions:

  • Brad Keselowski had the largest loss in top-10 rate of any driver, but that may be more attributable to his move from Team Penske to RFK Motorsports rather than to the Next Gen car.
  • Christopher Bell moved from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. His improvement is likely overestimated due to equipment quality differences.
  • Erik Jones stayed even, but that’s after moving from JGR (13 top-10 finishes in 2020) to Richard Petty Motorsports (six top 10s in 2021.) I view that change as a net positive.

At the end of last season, I presented the tentative hypothesis that older drivers had a harder time adapting to the Next Gen car. Less practice time mitigated their experience dialing in a car so that it was to their liking given specific track conditions.

But something else leaps out from this analysis.

Is the playing field tilting again?

Michael McDowell is not Harvick-level old, but he will turn 39 this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 35. Both have improved with the Next Gen Car. Chase Elliott (27 years old) and William Byron (25) aren’t old, either, but their top-10 rates have gone down.

Drivers running for the best-funded teams earned fewer top-10 finishes while drivers from less-funded teams (mostly) gained those finishes.

Trackhouse Racing and 23XI — two of the newest teams — account for much of the gains in top-10 finishes. Ross Chastain isn’t listed in the table because he didn’t have full-time Cup Series rides in 2020 or 2021. His 9.1% top-10 rate in that period is with lower-level equipment. He earned 27 top-10 finishes in the first 50 races (54%) with the Next Gen car.

This analysis suggests that age isn’t the only relevant variable. One interpretation of the data thus far is that the Next Gen (and its associated rules changes) eliminated the advantage well-funded teams built up over years of racing the Gen-5 and Gen-6 cars.

The question now is whether that leveling effect is wearing off. Even though parts are the same, more money means being able to hire the best people and buying more expensive computers for engineering simulations.

Compare the first 14 races of 2022 to the first 14 of 2023.

  • Last year at this time, 23XI and Trackhouse Racing had each won two races. This year, they combine for one win.
  • It took Byron eight races to win his second race of the year in 2022. This year, he won the third and fourth races of the year. Plus, he’s already won his third race this year.
  • Aside from Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win, this year’s surprise winners — Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney — are both from major teams.

We’re only 14 races into the 2023 season. There’s not enough data to determine the relative importance of age versus building a notebook for predicting success in the Next Gen car.

But this is perhaps the most important question. The Next Gen car leveled the playing field last year.

Will it stay level?

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.