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What would Dale Earnhardt, Sr. be doing if he were alive today?

By admin | February 9, 2009

By Richard Allen

 

As a history teacher I realize the dangers of asking what if questions in regard to historical things that cannot be changed. That being said, as a NASCAR fan I often wonder what Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would be doing if he had not tragically lost his life on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Each year as the Daytona 500 approaches, many often turn their thoughts to the seven time Sprint Cup champion and winner of the 1998 ‘Great American Race’.

Personally, I was never a huge fan of ‘The Intimidator’ but I had and still have great respect for his accomplishments in the sport.

At the time of his death he was about to turn 50 years old. Unlike several other great drivers who raced into their late 40s and further, Earnhardt was still very competitive. He was just coming off a second place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings in 2000 and he was on his way to a solid Top 5 finish in the Daytona 500 until the accident that claimed his life.

And more, Earnhardt had won two races in 2000 including a stirring victory at the Talladega Super Speedway for his last career win.

How much longer he would have raced competitively will never be known. He would be about to turn 57 if he were still living. Even for Earnhardt, it would seem a bit unlikely that he would still be driving at such a high level, at least on a full time basis.

One thing is for sure, whether still driving or not he would be immensely popular. That is evidenced by the fact that his souvenir sales remain high even in death.

Another thing that would seem a certainty is that Earnhardt would be serving as the leader and guiding force of the company he founded, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. It would be inconceivable that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would be driving anything other than the #8 car for DEI.

Earnhardt appeared poised to make a run at an unprecedented 8th championship in 2001. As was said earlier, he was coming off a second place points run of the previous season. His cars would have been capable of running up front as was demonstrated by the fact that Kevin Harvick, then completely unproven in the Sprint Cup division, went on to win twice in 2001 and finished 9th in the overall standings despite missing one race.

How much longer Earnhardt would have driven will forever remain a mystery. Perhaps he would have retired very soon after 2001 to guide his company and his son. Perhaps he would still be racing, either for Richard Childress Racing or his own team.

And furthermore, it would be interesting to see how the sport would have been different as well. Earnhardt had a great deal of influence when Bill France, Jr. was at the head of the sport. However, that leadership has changed since then. And, the television networks and powerful corporations now wield substantial power due to the lucrative contracts they have with NASCAR.

Some argue that the Car of Tomorrow would not exist today if Earnhardt were living. Of course, the CoT was indeed developed largely out of a reaction to his death. But, there almost certainly would have been at least some change to the vehicle used in the sport.

Also, it has been suggested that the Chase for the Championship would not be used to determine a champion if ‘The Intimidator’ were still with us. Again, there is no way of knowing that for sure, but it must be considered that television and those massive corporations are the power players in NASCAR today. And, Bill France, Jr. is no longer here either.

This is a topic that could be discussed forever without coming to any conclusions. History teachers like myself realize the danger of asking such questions but also love the many what if scenarios that come along with those questions.

Dale Earnhardt died in February of 2001. There is nothing that will ever change that. However, the thoughts of what might have happened had he lived are at least worth considering.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

10 Responses to “What would Dale Earnhardt, Sr. be doing if he were alive today?”

  1. The Old Guy Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Richard,

    You are quite correct in your statement about asking “what if” questions when history cannot be changed.

    “What If” Davey Allison had not been killed in 1993? Would Dale Earnhardt have won the championship that year?

    “What if” Alan Kulwicki had not lost his life in 1993? Would he have been a repeat champion?

    “What if” Ernie Irvan had not been seriously injured in 1994 and not completed the season? He was on a championship track. Dale Earnhardt won the champioship that year.

    Is it possible that Dale would have been only a five time champion? Which in and of itself, was quite a feat.

    As far as the other speculation about the COT and the Chase, it can only be speculation.

    Many seem to forget that NASCAR didn’t exist because of Dale Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt existed because of NASCAR.

    And, while he did have the ear of Bill France Jr., would he have had the ear of Brian France?

    I do agree that Jr. would still be in the #8 today if Sr. were still alive.

  2. Callaway Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 11:10 am

    In all likelihood Dale Jr. would have still been with DEI which would have been in contention for the Championship yearly. Most likely he would have also been on a limited driving schedule at age 57 or maybe retired. The car is what it is, I remember when they did the last major change going to the shorter wheelbase everyone seemed to adapt and some of his best years were with the shorter smaller race car. As much as I detest this car for being an ugly homogenized grocery transporter it does in fact appear to be substantially safer for the drivers which is what it was designed for first and foremost. Geez next time ask an easy one like would Gettysburg turned out differently if Lee would have heard from Stuart earlier say on June 26th 1863. LOL

  3. Michael Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve always thought Dale would have won his 8th championship in 2001. He said in an inteview days before his death that he felt better physically than he has in years.(i think he had back/neck surgery the year before from the 97 dega wreck) Like you said, look what Harvic did as a rookie plus missing a race.

    I also think Dale jr. woulda won the championship in 2004 cause Dale SR woulda kept that teams head on strait. he woulda kicked someone’s *** for the way that all involved with the 8 car fell apart at the end of 04.

    Finally, DEI would be a 4-car, fully sponsered race team. He would probably be semi-retired from driving, only putting out a couple diecast cars a year, and his wife wouldn’t have been allowed to completly FLOOD the market with his all his ’swag’ and decrease the value souvenir collectors.

    Just my opinion…..but i think we all can agree that dale sure is missed every sunday. (and saturday nights at bristol)

  4. Danny Culler Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I was Dale Earnhardt Sr’s spotter for the last 6 years he drove the # 3 for RCR. If he were still alive today he would have had 8 Nascar Cup Championships under his belt today, and he would be running DEI with Dale Jr. as the # 1 driver in the # 8 car. Sponsors for the other teams at DEI would not have been a problem and DEI would have not merged with Ganassi Racing. You don’t have any idea how much I wish that “What If were true”. There will never be another Big “E”. A great man with a big heart!

  5. Joe Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Dale Earnhardt was NEVER a “Sprint Cup Champion” and NEVER will be to a REAL FAN!!!
    Why can’t you media morons give Winston it’s due and call Champions before 2001, “NASCAR Cup Champions”???

  6. Brad Fox Says:
    February 10th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    It is weird as I read all the comments, it makes you think about the different ideas people think of. when I got to the one from Danny Culler and started to read it, it gave me goosebumps! I don’t know how much different things would be but I do think that JR would have more incentive because I think he lost alot of his passion.

  7. Terry Says:
    February 11th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Brad I agree 100% with your statement.

  8. Jackie Says:
    February 12th, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    JR.Is more commited to his driving than ever since he made his move to HMS. Would he still be at DEI yes and under his dad’s supervision probably a championship. But no that did not happen but it will maybe not 09 but it is coming. And Joe a fan of Sr. or not he was a great man and Champion obiously something you will never be. So get a life and go knock someone else.

  9. nicholas Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    i think (and a lot of people think) DALE EARNHARDT SR was the best driver to ever step foot behind a stock car racing wheel.dale sr had 76 career victories and 34 of them came from daytona internatinal speedway.

  10. Chaz Surette Says:
    May 2nd, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I read in a book that Dale was planning retiring after the 2003 season, since he was already beginning to plan his retirement merchandise.