Little did anyone know, 20 years ago, NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt would be competing in his final race, the Daytona 500.
As drivers revved up their engines Sunday for the first race of the 2021 season, the memories of Earnhardt came rushing back. Sunday’s race at Daytona was the 20th since Earnhardt crashed on that same track and later died.
The Kannapolis, N.C. native died on Feb. 18, 2001. In Cabarrus and Rowan counties, where he was born and raised, he is recognized as a larger-than-life icon. There is a busy street named after him, and a statue of him that stands in downtown Kannapolis.
On the NASCAR circuit, he was more than just a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
On the third lap of Sunday’s Daytona 500, the sports honored the legend who drive in the No. 3 car. Those in attendance were encouraged to stand and hold three fingers to the air to pay tribute to Earnhardt.
“It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said to Fox Sports. “20 years ago, my dad left this Earth. So much of him lives on in me and all of those who feel his spirit each and every day.” Earnhardt has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame inaugural class in 2010.
He had 76 wins and 428 top 10 finishes in his 27 year NASCAR career.