Dale Earnhardt will forever remain one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, even if his career ended early and abruptly when his fatal crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 shook the sport to its core. Years later, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., revealed that his father had privately laid out his retirement plans before his unexpectedly final race.
Dale Earnhardt’s private retirement plans
Before Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal Daytona 500 crash, he had experienced tremendous success on the NASCAR circuit. But during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show in February 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed his father might have had a retirement plan laid out before his sudden death.
“I think there are a few people that he may have shared that with, particularly in his inner circles as his businesses go, as to what he was going to do driving-wise over the next couple of years,” Junior said. “I think he had a plan in his mind to scale it back. It wasn’t more than a year or two of racing before he was going to retire.”
Dale Jr. may not have heard those plans directly from his father, but the elder Earnhardt had spent nearly three decades in the sport. An opportunity to grab a record eighth Cup Series championship might have kept him behind the wheel, especially since he was coming off a second-place finish in 2000. But he could’ve shifted his focus to running Dale Earnhardt Inc. and further progressing his son’s driving career.
Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR legacy was set in stone, but much was ahead
Dale Earnhardt put together a NASCAR career that earned him recognition as one of the sport’s greatest drivers, but he could have added so much more to his legacy behind the wheel. Plus, he had an opportunity to help shape Dale Jr.’s career to an even greater extent.
Junior entered the sport in part to build upon his relationship with his father, and it was beginning to blossom before Dale Sr.’s sudden death. Had he avoided the fatal crash in ’02, he could have remained a significant part of the NASCAR scene and also played a more substantial role in his family’s daily lives.
Through various interviews over the years, Dale Jr. has provided a gateway into his life by discussing his childhood. Growing up, he and his sister, Kelley, yearned for a closer relationship with their father, and his death took that opportunity away.
Earnhardt’s legacy is already impressive, but he had a lot more he could have gained off the track.