Before his sad death at the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt was one of the most iconic racing drivers of all time. The racing veteran died in a collision after losing control of his vehicle on the penultimate lap of what was shaping up to be a strong finish.
The race had been competitive throughout the day, with Earnhardt leading 17 laps. By lap 173, he had slid to seventh place when a huge crash took out 18 cars all at once, forcing the race to be red-flagged for wreckage cleaning.
Earnhardt was acting as a rear gunner for his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. team vehicles as they raced around the final lap of the race, attempting to thwart any late push from the trailing pack. Earnhardt maintained the strong-arm tactics that had become synonymous with his reputation as the cars sped into Turns 3 and 4 on that fatal last lap.
Dale Earnhardt Crash Video & Photos
Earnhardt’s left-rear corner tagged Sterling Marlin’s right-front fender as he threw his final block, causing his vehicle to spin. Earnhardt struggled for control, his vehicle touching the apron, causing it to spin clockwise, going up the track and across the bows of the closely following Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader.
His right-rear corner was struck by Schrader’s left-front corner, which increased Earnhardt’s car’s angle before it nosed hard into the exposed pavement.
Playboy published a comprehensive interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in September 2001. He discussed everything from his background growing up to how he navigates a race track, his feelings on that sad day in February, and an unexpected dialogue regarding his own accident the following week.
“Someone just plowed into me. I was zipped directly against the wall. Everyone commented on how similar it looked to my father’s wreck. “That was humiliating,” Earnhardt said. When questioned if he was just ashamed since it looked like his father’s accident, he responded yes, then gave an unexpected response.
“I felt ashamed that I had mocked my father,” he admitted openly.
That was Earnhardt’s assessment of himself. It’s safe to say that his fans and the majority of the racing world did not see it that way. The vast majority of fans were sympathetic and felt terrible for him for having to bear so much in a week.
He bounced back that season, winning three races and finishing ninth in the points standings.