Dale Earnhardt had a legendary NASCAR career that cemented him as one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever had. Earnhardt‘s time on the track also came with some scary moments before his fatal crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. One of those incidents saw him nearly pass out while behind the wheel.
Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR career
Dale Earnhardt constructed a legendary NASCAR career that spanned nearly three decades.
Earnhardt experienced sustained success in his time on the track that saw him finish tied for the all-time mark with seven Cup Series championships along with 76 race wins. His aggressive driving style earned him a strong reputation, garnering the “The Intimidator” nickname that helped him become a fan favorite.
During much of his career, Earnhardt became the gold standard in the sport as he had 13 top five points standing finishes, including four championships in five years (1990-1994). He also went through some scary moments on the track before his fatal accident that saw him nearly passing out behind the wheel.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. terrifyingly blacked out on a NASCAR track a few years before his death
In the years before Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death in 2001, he experienced a few scary crashes on the track.
One of those instances came in August 1997 during the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. It wasn’t out of the norm to see Earnhardt take a nap in a parked car during his career.
On that day, he chose to take a second nap right as drivers were told to start their engines and take the track for pace laps. That alone raised red flags as it occurred just moments before the cars were going to pull out from pit row.
Immediately after Earnhardt took the track, things headed south in a hurry in the first lap as he hit the wall turn 1 then hit it again inTurn 2, which in that second instance. He drove across the wall through the entirety of turn 2 and it sent him tailing toward the infield.
Earnhardt was unresponsive on the radio communications during that situation until team owner Richard Childress spoke to him. The seven-time Cup champion finally responded to Childress, voicing that he “saw two racetracks.”
Earnhardt managed to pull into pit row, where he was replaced and taken to a local hospital for 24 hours.
Return to the track cleared after multiple medical tests
Dale Earnhardt’s frightening situation on the track led to many medical tests being conducted on him for three straight days.
David Allen, Earnhardt’s spokesman, stated that there were no conclusive results from the test, but it was deemed the legendary driver experienced a “blackout.” The seven-time Cup Series champion underwent examinations from 16 total doctors for any possible circulatory, substance, body chemical, heat, respiratory, carbon monoxide, and stress problems, which all came back negative.
“He has always had the persona and image of a tough guy — now he has a human ailment and it is hard for us to deal with,” said Allen. “It sure is baffling everyone. We would like to know and have something to point at. The unknown is a lot harder to deal with than the known.”
There remained a focus on Earnhardt’s health after that instance, but he received clearance to continue racing. He managed to finish out the season, where he placed fifth in the point standings. In the final eight races of that year, he finished inside the top five four times, including second place twice.