We’re getting closer to the start of the NASCAR season.
The cars were on the track at Daytona International Speedway yesterday for the first time, practicing for tonight’s qualifying session and tomorrow’s Duel races ahead of the green flag for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
And as we gear up for the biggest race of the year, we’ve been looking back at some of the best moments in the 64-year history of the Great American Race.
First we took it back to 1993, to “the Dale and Dale show” battle between Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett that saw Jarrett bring home his first Daytona 500 victory and the first ever NASCAR win for Joe Gibbs racing while his dad called the race from the TV booth.
Well today’s incredible Daytona 500 also features the Intimidator, and came the year before he finally pulled off that first victory.
It was February 16, 1997 – Dale’s 19th attempt at winning the Daytona 500.
With just 12 laps to go in the race, Earnhardt was running in second place behind Bill Elliott, hungry for the first Daytona 500 win that had eluded him for so long. But as the pack came off of turn two and the third place car of Jeff Gordon got underneath Earnhardt’s #3 Chevy, Gordon squeezed Earnhardt up to the outside wall.
Earnhardt’s car then bounced back down the track and right into the path of an oncoming Dale Jarrett, who got into the back of Earnhardt and turned him upside down and back into the outside wall.
The Intimidator’s car flipped over and finally came to rest upright in the grass on the inside of the back straightaway.
Earnhardt got out of his car and climbed into the waiting ambulance for his mandatory trip to the infield care center, no doubt dejected that he had just lost yet another shot at winning his first Daytona 500.
But as he watched from the ambulance as the track crew hooked his car up to the wrecker, Earnhardt noticed something:
The Wheels Were Still On The Car
All of a sudden, Earnhardt jumps out of the ambulance, helmet still in hand. He makes his way around the car assessing the damage – and he decided that the car was still driveable.
Earnhardt tells the crew to take his ride off the wrecker. He hops back in, puts his helmet back on and fires up his badly-damaged car. And after a trip to pit road, Earnhardt’s team was able to get the car repaired enough to get it back out on the track.
Ultimately Earnhardt finished the race in 31st, 5 laps down to eventual race winner Jeff Gordon.
It was just another heartbreak in his long quest to win the Daytona 500. But it’s also an example of what a fierce competitor Earnhardt was: As long as the car was driveable, he wanted to be on the track.