For over 25 years, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the face of NASCAR before his tragic death in 2001. As the son of a folk hero in racing communities, Earnhardt forged a path for himself from humble roots to international superstar, and to this day he is one of the most popular figures in the sport’s history. Once struggling to get by, Earnhardt became one of the most profitable names in the sport and his legacy continues into this day.
Dale Earnhardt’s racing career
Ralph Earnhardt was never a top-tier racer in his field, but his methods of conditioning his car for races have made him iconic in his own right. While this helped his son, Dale, get into racing, his tragic death when his son was only 22 meant that Dale would have to do what he needed to do without his father. What he had, however, was a work ethic that made his path to racing far easier.
Dale Sr. dropped out of school in eighth grade and was married and divorced twice by the time he was 25. On top of that, he had three mouths to feed when he joined the racing world in the ’70s.
Starting in smaller races, Earnhardt Sr.’s control of the track made him one of racing’s brightest young stars. By 1979, he was the NASCAR Rookie of the Year and his brand was only growing.
Earnhardt Sr. had an innate ability to control races thanks to his control of a car and strategic mindset, and as the ’80s came along, he became the face of professional racing.
He was a perennial winner, winning his first race in 1979, and by 1987, he won 11 races in a single season. Earnhardt had a charm and a charisma that connected him with NASCAR fans, and he developed a massive following because of it.
By 2001, he was one of the sport’s elder statesmen, still winning the occasional race and often competing alongside his son, Dale Jr. At the 2001 Daytona 500, however, tragedy struck.
Earnhardt Sr. was trying to give his son an extra edge on the final lap of the race by playing defense with his car, but the ensuing crash resulted in a fiery death that sent shockwaves through the racing world and beyond.
At his death, Dale Sr. had won 76 of 676 races and was one of the best to ever get behind the wheel of a race car. On top of this, he had built himself up as a brand.
Dale Earnhardt as a brand
19 years after his tragic death, Earnhardt Sr. is still one of the most popular racers of all time. His face adorns countless items at the NASCAR store, and at the height of his career, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the overall sales of NASCAR merchandise. He had parlayed his down-home charm and ability to race into a successful business career.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. became a powerhouse in the racing world, and it did not take long for Earnhardt Sr.’s company to get millions of dollars in investments as that property grew. He was now bigger than a race car. He appeared in commercials, television shows, and even playing himself in a handful of movie cameos.
NASCAR might not build many superstars, but Earnhardt Sr. fit the mold and made himself and his family lots of money by doing so.
How much was he worth at his death?
With so much going for him on top of his NASCAR earnings, Earnhardt Sr. flexed the first initial of his name by amassing a net worth of over $70 million. Passing on the family legacy to his son, that brand has only grown with the Earnhardt name, as Dale Jr. is reportedly worth over $400 million in his own right.
Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic end does not mean we should ignore everything that happened before it. He was a pioneer of NASCAR who rose from a humble upbringing to become one of the biggest names that the sport had ever seen. That name still brings in a profit, too, as younger generations still hear stories of one of the greatest racers to ever take the track.