NASCAR was shaken to its core following Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500. His passing left an incredibly massive void in his son Dale Jr.‘s life, but he chose to push forward his racing career. During his unforgettable first win following his father’s death, Earnhardt Jr. dealt with a behind-the-scenes controversy during the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. earns his first win after dad’s tragic death
Following Dale Earnhardt Sr.‘s death during the 2001 Daytona 500, it left a massive void over the sport.
Dale Jr. continued to push forward with his racing career to honor his father and their family legacy. All that guided its way toward him, grabbing one of his most emotional race victories.
In July 2001, Earnhardt Jr. managed to squeeze out a win at the Pepsi 400 held at Daytona International Speedway. It marked his first victory after his dad’s death at the same track where that tragic incident unfolded months earlier.
Earnhardt Jr. dominated the race that day as he led 116 of the 160 total laps. He fell from the lead to the sixth spot with six laps left to go. However, he managed to move his way back up to the top position to grab the win, capped off by his teammate Michael Waltrip protecting him on the last lap.
Beyond all the emotions that flowed out from that win, Earnhardt Jr. dealt with a minor controversy with his sponsor during the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. disobeyed Budweiser’s orders in his emotional first race win after his dad’s death
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s proudest moment of his NASCAR career left an everlasting memory for many reasons beyond being his first win after his dad’s death.
What isn’t publicized is that Earnhardt Jr. went through a controversial internal issue with his sponsor Budweiser. In his No. 8 car, he chose to place a skull and crossbones sticker, a symbol associated with death and poison.
Earnhardt Jr. chose to put the sticker himself, but Budweiser voiced that it conflicted with the company given their product is alcohol. Despite knowing that, he decided the night before the race to sneak into the car and put the stick on the dashboard.
“Just a sticker I thought was cool,” Earnhardt Jr. voiced via Reddit. “So I snuck it into the car and stuck it on the dash that night. Bud was pissed off because of the connection of that symbol with poison.
Earnhardt Jr. brushed any of that noise aside, but it wasn’t until years later that he learned that Budweiser had asked to remove the sticker during the race.
“They actually asked our team if I could remove it during the race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. I didn’t get that information till years later.”
Unforgettable NASCAR moment he will cherish forever
The controversy aside didn’t hamper the pivotal win in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career.
It’s a victory that he holds tremendous appreciation toward, given the emotional connection to his father. There is a strong personal tie to his dad, which he has only further cherished the older he becomes.
One of Earnhardt’s passions in his life is finding various ways to both honor and strengthen his father’s legacy. The win on the track at Daytona that day is one of the shining moments in his life that he forever relishes.
Despite all the outside noise that lingered for years around the race, it doesn’t take away from the special place it holds in Earnhardt’s life.