Jeff Gordon’s Tribute To Dale Earnhardt The Week After He Was Killed Still Gives Me Chills

NASCAR Jeff Gordon

Gordon vs. Earnhardt was one of the all-time great rivalries in NASCAR.

Off the track, Jeff Gordon seemed like the polar opposite of Dale Earnhardt. The young kid from California who made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1992 was polished, buttoned up, had a squeaky clean image. Meanwhile, NASCAR’s biggest star was the rough-around-the-edges Intimidator, who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers as he spoke with his signature southern drawl.

But on the track, fans of Earnhardt loved to hate Gordon.

By the 2001 season, he had won three Cup Series championships, keeping Earnhardt from breaking Richard Petty’s record and scoring an unheard of 8th championship.

As competitors though, it was nothing but respect between Earnhardt and Gordon.

Of course we all know what happened on February 18, 2001. Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500, and the NASCAR world was brought to its knees at the loss of its biggest star.

But the series pushed on. Despite many thinking that they would take a break, NASCAR rolled into Rockingham Speedway the next week as scheduled, with tributes to Earnhardt everywhere you looked.

Jeff Gordon wore a #3 hat in the garage, a sign of respect for one of his biggest competitors:

“I’m wearing this 3 cap to let everyone know I’m thinking of Dale, to know how much I respected him and how much I’m missing him. We weren’t fishing buddies, we weren’t guys who called one another all of the time, but he was somebody that I respected greatly.”

And in qualifying, he went out and scored the pole position for the Dura Lube 400, lining up right beside Steve Park, who drove for Earnhardt’s race team, DEI.

So when it came time to race, it was only right for Gordon to pay tribute to Earnhardt on the track.

During the pace laps, instead of lining up in the pole position, Gordon moved back a row to leave the first spot on the grid open for Earnhardt, a sign of respect and a tribute to his biggest competitor.

Even announcer Mike Joy choked up as he set the scene from the TV booth:

“You see at the front of the field, polesitter Jeff Gordon has backed off one row, leaving the pole position open in honor of Dale Earnhardt.”

It was a classy tribute to Earnhardt on a weekend that was filled with them. And at the end of the race, it was Earnhardt’s driver Steve Park who ended up in victory lane for only his second (and final) career win.

All these years later, it’s a race that still gives me chills to go back and watch as the spirit of Earnhardt loomed so large over Rockingham that day.

And it was a classy tribute from Gordon – who Earnhardt fans loved to hate, but who proved that he had nothing but respect for the Man in Black.

@jaydizz_dude Jeff Gordon Put Dale Earnhardt on Pole the week after the 2001 Daytona 500 #daleearnhardt #nascar #jeffgordon #daytona500 #AutoRacing ♬ original sound – jaydizz

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock