Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Historical Significance of NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt By: Candice Smith


After earth-shattering events, NASCAR has always been there in modern history to provide normalcy and a beacon of hope for America.



Leading the pack of NASCAR drivers who brought a feeling of hope, optimism, and victory to America was none other than Dale Earnhardt. On what would have been his 69th birthday, I have gathered historical events that rocked America and how watching Earnhardt’s stellar career unfold made those stressful times in America a bit more bearable. In no way am I implying the tragedies and Earnhardt’s success were related or had anything to do with one another, simply Earnhardt’s victories and Cup championships continued to occur despite national tragedies.

In Dale Earnhardt’s storied career with 76 NASCAR Cup Series race victories and seven NASCAR Cups, he had been a part of the fabric of America from the late 1970s until his death in 2001. 

As he was racing for his first career Cup in 1980, the country dealt in May with the eruption of long-dormant Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Although certainly not related in any way, it is part of a pattern that Americans looked to their passion for NASCAR and its heroes to make it through.

As 1986 dawned, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster rocked the American space program and the country when all eyes watched live as the explosion occurred. That same year Earnhardt had a remarkable season in NASCAR winning five races and tying up the Cup one week before the season’s end.

In May of 1987, the USS Stark was fired upon during the Iran-Iraq war. That year Dale Earnhardt showed brilliance by winning 11 races his third NASCAR Cup championship, and a back-to-back one at that!

The year 1990 saw the mobilization of American troops after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Earnhardt once again had a dominate season in NASCAR and won his fourth Cup after winning nine races.

By 1991 American soldiers were participating in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait. Airstrikes began against Iraq and military families were put under enormous strains. Earnhardt raced hard, acquired four victories and another back-to-back Cup that totaled five for The Intimidator.



The first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City occurred in January 1993. By spring of that year people tuned in daily to learn evermore about the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas while a massive snowstorm labeled “The Storm of the Century” blanketed the eastern United States “from Canada to Mexico” for three days in late March. Meanwhile, Earnhardt won six races and captured his sixth championship in NASCAR’s top series.

In 1994 the country was mesmerized and horrified by the OJ Simpson arrest for the murder of his wife. In addition, America’s favorite pastime, Major League Baseball, struck a sour note with its fans that still reverberates to the present when they went on strike. NASCAR kept powering on, collecting more fans. Earnhardt, in yet another back-to-back Cup, earned his seventh championship, tying him with the sport’s King, Richard Petty.



The loss of Dale Earnhardt, on February 18, 2001, left the sport and the country reeling. A seemingly indestructible sports hero was fallen in what looked like a benign accident at first. The news of Earnhardt’s death sent a tremor felt within NASCAR, the country, and around the globe.

True to form, NASCAR went on with the next scheduled race a week later held at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. The winner of that race was Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Steve Parks.

In July of 2001 Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his DEI-backed No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo to victory at the track his father had perished five months before.



Then the unthinkable happened on September 11, 2001. And the world changed.

But NASCAR was there for America. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove his No. 8 to victory lane at Dover Downs International Speedway and then drove his victory laps waving an enormous American flag. The crowd wept with every emotion they had been feeling since the attacks had occurred, and since Earnhardt's death. It was a form of healing. It offered hope.



Another victory awaited Earnhardt Jr. in October 2001 at Talladega.

Fast forward to 2020. Now there is a global pandemic that has kept NASCAR’s engines silent for six weeks and counting. The iRacing with Earnhardt, Jr. and other NASCAR drivers and drivers from other series is filling a void, but unable to quench the thirst of America’s collective need of live NASCAR racing.

It has been nearly two decades since we lost Dale. For many it still feels like yesterday. And Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retired from NASCAR’s Cup series at the end of the 2017 season, yet there are still many heroes on the track.

As we remember Dale Earnhardt on his birthday, let us honor him and his greatness by bringing the engines roaring back to life! If history has taught us anything, it is that healing begins with the normalcy, excitement, and greatness that NASCAR provides.

Let’s do it for Dale.  



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