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Sunday, February 18
Earnhardt dies instantly of head injuries
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Dale Earnhardt, one of the greatest
stars in auto racing history, died Sunday from injuries in a
last-lap crash at the Daytona 500.
The seven-time Winston Cup champion had to be cut out of his car
after slamming into the wall on the final turn of the race while
fighting for position. He was taken to the hospital accompanied by
his son, Dale Jr., a young NASCAR star who finished second in the
"This is understandably the toughest announcement I've ever had
to make. We've lost Dale Earnhardt," NASCAR president Mike Helton
Earnhardt died instantly of head injuries, said Steve Bohannon,
a doctor at Halifax Medical Center.
"There was nothing that could have been done for him," he
What caused the crash
Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final turn of the final lap when his
No. 3 Chevrolet appeared to brush Sterling Marlin's Dodge, causing Earnhardt's car to swerve sharply to
Earnhardt's car, traveling at roughly 180 mph, then was struck on the side by Ken Schrader's car before slamming head-on into the outside wall. Doctors said he probably died instantly of head injuries.
The death comes at a time that driver safety issues were under
increased scrutiny. Three NASCAR drivers were killed in wrecks last
The accident happened a half-mile from the finish of the NASCAR
season-opener, won by Michael Waltrip.
Earnhardt, running fourth, grazed Sterling Marlin's car, crashed
into the wall at the high-banked fourth turn going about 180 mph,
and was smacked hard by Ken Schrader.
Earnhardt's death was the biggest blow to auto racing since
three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna was killed in the San
Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, in 1994.
Neil Bonnett, one of Earnhardt's best friends, was killed that
same year in practice for the Daytona 500. Rodney Orr died in a
wreck three days later, also in practice, and was the last driver
killed at the track until Earnhardt's accident.
"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver ever, and I personally
have lost a great friend," NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said.
It was the second major wreck in five years in the race for
Earnhardt, a driver known for his aggressiveness on the track. He
flipped wildly on the backstretch near the end of the race in 1997
but was not seriously hurt. He came back to win the race the next
year on his 20th try.
Earnhardt is the leader among active Winston Cup drivers with 76
career victories. He also had the most victories at Daytona
International Speedway, 34.
The death made Waltrip's victory virtually meaningless, as
drivers mourned one of their greatest stars.
"My heart is hurting right now," Waltrip said before news of
Earnhardt's death was announced. "I would rather be any place
right this moment than here. It's so painful."
Earnhardt was doing what he does best throughout the race, being
the crowd favorite and bumping other cars for position.
He was a factor throughout, and spent the final laps close to
his son and Waltrip, trying to block Marlin. Marlin had just passed
Earnhardt, who was trying to get back by him on the low side of the
track when there was slight contact that sent his Chevrolet
spinning up the banking.
It turned to the right and hit the wall, and Schrader could not
avoid hitting Earnhardt's car. Both cars slowly began to slide down
to the bottom of the track as the rest of the field raced by.
Earnhardt Jr. quickly left the postrace celebration for Waltrip,
and sprinted to the infield care center to be with his father. It
took several minutes to get the elder Earnhardt out of the car, and
he was quickly taken to Halifax Hospital.
Meanwhile, the crowd at Victory Circle was chanting "DEI,
DEI," for Dale Earnhardt Inc., which owns the cars of his son and
Waltrip. The celebration, which usually lasts 30 minutes, ended
Last May, Busch Series driver Adam Petty, the grandson of stock
car great Richard Petty, was killed in Loudon, N.H. Two months
later, Winston Cup driver Kenny Irwin also was killed at New
Hampshire International Speedway.
NASCAR truck series driver Tony Roper was killed in October at
Texas Motor Speedway.
|Dale Earnhardt (No. 3) goes into the wall while being simultaneously rammed by Ken Schrader (No. 36).|