To state what is extremely obvious here, Dale Earnhardt Sr. came by his iconic nickname, The Intimidator, very honestly.
This past week ahead of the big race at Talladega, where he has more wins than any other driver with 10, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. told a fascinating story about a race that changed his fathers life many decades ago.
Dale Sr. grew up in small-town Kannapolis, North Carolina, where his father, Ralph Earnhardt, was a famously great driver and well-known in the racing world. So of course, Sr. inevitably learned how to race and fix cars from a very young age.
Actually, rumor has it in 1963, he secretly drove his dads car in a race and almost won at 12 years old, and honestly, from everything I’ve heard about him over the years, I’m very inclined to believe it, but I digress…
Like I think any parent would be, because of dangerous nature of the sport, Ralph was hesitant to let his son race, especially after he quit high school, but he knew it was inevitable and eventually gave in.
And they raced against each other just one time at Metrolina Motor Speedway in Charlotte (which is no longer there) in 1972, which was for the V8 division, but they included some of the smaller V6 cars to fill out the field, so Sr. made the cut.
So as luck, or fate in my opinion, would have it, Dale Sr.’s car ended up on the same track as his father’s top of the line Chevelle, and Dale Jr. says his dad was “driving out of his mind” on this particular day:
“Dad was driving out of his mind this day. Usually he ran mid-pack, maybe a top three car, but for whatever reason on this day, the car was fast, and he was moving through the field, even running with some of the Sportsman cars.
But eventually, Ralph caught him, and he’s right behind him. Granddad was one of the fastest drivers on the track and he’s racing one of the fastest cars. When my dad saw him coming up from behind, he went wide to let Ralph go by.
He was just doing the courteous thing trying to let his old man race his race. But, something strange happened. Grandaddy didn’t pass him, went wide too. And then, bam! He hits dad from behind.
So now dad’s looking behind him, he’s trying to figure out what’s happening and bam! his dad hits him again.”
At this point, Dale Sr. is “fuming,” and clearly doesn’t understand what his dad is trying to do. He moves towards the infield thinking maybe Ralph wanted the outside spot, but Ralph just kept following him and hit him again.
He finally figures out that’s not going to stop, and his father was trying to teach him a very important and invaluable lesson:
“You don’t move over for anybody, even your own flesh and blood.”
He finally took off, and Ralph followed him, but Jr. says there was no way his V6 could hold Ralph off forever, but he certainly made him work for it… and that’s exactly what Ralph wanted.
Ralph eventually did get by and win the race, but he had pushed Sr. so far in the process that he wound up finishing in the top 10, even beating some of the more powerful, higher-end cars that day.
So if you wanna know where his very intimidating driving style came from, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, based on this story, to think it all started on that very day way back in 1972.
Dale Jr. added that it was coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidental), the only time they ever raced each other, but it might’ve been “the most important race of Dad’s entire career”:
“So that was the only time that Dad and Ralph ever raced each other, but it might have been the most important race of Dad’s entire career.”
And he learned what something unbelievably paramount that would affect his driving forever, ultimately making him a legend and an icon in the racing world and way beyond that, too:
“He learned something on the racetrack that day that affected his driving forever: You race your race, you give 110%, and don’t move for anybody.”
And The Intimidator was born.
Inject it into my veins…
You can watch Dale Jr. tell the whole story in the video below, and it’s well-worth a few minutes out of your, day to do so, I promise: