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The Greatest Story In Racing

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Elly Productions

Elly Productions is one of the fastest-growing, up-and-coming NASCAR channels on YouTube with bi-weekly video essays and a vast array of stop motions, edits, and reactionary content for all racing fans to enjoy!
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It was the late great Ken Squire who, during the Speed Channel’s The Day documentary, dubbed this classic racing story of Dale Earnhardt “a Shakespearean tragedy of sport”. That quote rings true to me and, in our good friend and partner EllyProductions49’s video, he recounts this tale of tragedy and triumph; here is The Greatest Story In Racing.

If you ask any random fan on the street “who is the GOAT of NASCAR racing?” you’re bound to get a variety of answers. More often than not, though, they will list none other than the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, amongst the all-time greats.

This story begins with a flashback reel to many of Earnhardt’s greatest moments: the infamous pass in the grass; Earnhardt cleaning his windshield while still driving his car to avoid coming down pit road; Earnhardt getting penalized by NASCAR and going down a lap only to recapture the lead 40-laps later. Earnhardt topped all of that, however, in the 2000 fall race at Talladega, which would ultimately be his 76th and final NASCAR Cup Series win. With 5-laps to go, Dale Earnhardt was running 18th. By way of daring moves, he made his way to the front in only 3 laps and went on to victory, winning the Winston Million for the first and only time in his career.

Fast forward to the 2000/2001 offseason, and Dale Earnhardt was eyeing expansion for his DEI Cup team. The team previously fielded the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevy for Steve Park and the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy for his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Now, with the added No. 15 Napa Chevy for Dale Sr.’s long-time friend Michael Waltrip, DEI finally had their dream team. But DEI’s hiring of the younger Waltrip was initially met with raised eyebrows.

While Michael’s older brother, Darrell, had cemented his legacy in NASCAR as one of the all-time greats, Michael set a record of his own: the most consecutive starts without securing a win. Nevertheless, Dale saw something in Michael he liked and formed a plan: he, Dale Jr., and Michael were going to work together and win the 2001 Daytona 500. By the 30 to go and after a scary late-race Big One involving an air-borne Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip was leading the race, and Dale and Dale Jr. were parked behind him under the red flag.

When the race restarted, the only car that could seemingly run with the DEI duo of the 15 and 8 and the RCR No. 3 was Sterling Marlin in the No. 40 for Chip Ganassi Racing. But as the laps wound down and the white flag flew, Michael Waltrip and Dale Jr. scooted off while Dale Earnhart’s famous black No. 3 defended third in a rats nest with Kenny Schrader and the aforementioned Marlin.

As the pack zoomed through turn four, Earnhardt blocked Marlin which turned him head-first into the wall, collecting Schrader in the process. The accident didn’t look that bad, not in comparison to Tony’s wreck thirty laps before. But in the end, three years after Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500, the same race took his life just as similar incidents stole the lives of four others in the year before.

The next week at Rockingham, the weather was appropriately dreary. Rain threatened the 400-mile race for much of the weekend, bleeding over into Sunday morning. Long-time rival to Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip led the invocation, mourning the loss of his friend. As the rain briefly cleared, the track was dried and the covers came off the cars. They started their engines and fed out onto the track running place laps.

A few moments later, the field took the green flag, returning to some resemblance of normalcy. Then, as the field ran into Turn 4 on the opening lap, chaos struck, which collected the No. 8 Bud machine of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He hit the wall at a head-on impact, similar to that of his father’s the week before. On the third lap, the fans and the broadcast went silent. Initially, it was to show their respect for their fallen hero. But this time, it was also due to shock, as DW said it best on the broadcast, “This can’t be happening to that young man”. Soon after, the rain returned and settled in. The race was postponed to the following Monday, a much-needed refresher.

When the race resumed the next day, it was clear that Steve Park, a long-time flagship driver for DEI, was head and shoulders above the competition, his biggest challengers being Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte. After fending off a late-charging Labonte in the JGR No. 18, Steve Park would go on to win the race, kickstarting the healing process.

On March 11th, 2001, the next step in the healing process was realized. Though Dale Earnhardt was the franchise driver of his Richard Childress Racing team, he wasn’t going to be able to race forever. And due to sponsorship obligations, his good friend and car owner, Richard Childress had to look for the future.

He found that future in none other than the legendary driver in his own right, Kevin Harvick. In 2000, Harvick drove for the team’s No. 2 AC Delco Busch Series team, netting a handful of wins and running a rather impressive campaign. Heading into 2001, the plan was the same: to run the full Busch Series schedule but add in a few starts for a third RCR car, the No. 30 sponsored by AOL. Dale’s death would change those plans, however, and Harvick found himself thrust into the rebranded No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevy. His first start at Rockingham saw Happy Harvick score a 14th-place finish. He would score his first top-10 a week later in Las Vegas.

As the race in Atlanta started, it was clear that his RCR Chevy and the No. 24 Hendrick car of Jeff Gordon were head and shoulders above the competition. And, in the final lap, Harvick would exit Turn-4 on the high side, defending his lead. Jeff Gordon swooped down low and the two ran tire-to-tire through the dogleg and across the finish line, in similar fashion to how Dale beat Bobby Labonte only a year before. Though it was a hard adjustment, Dale’s old crew and car were back in victory lane, another curse broken.

The 2001 season rocketed on. The healing process continued. And though Dale was never forgotten in those first 16 races, fans and drivers alike started to feel a little bit better. But, after a weekend off, it dawned that the next race would be a return to the track that stole Dale from us. The track loomed in the distance and when drivers, teams, and fans returned to Daytona in the summer of 2001, all eyes were on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his white No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet.

The competition could not keep Junebug and his No. 8 ride at bay. Once he passed Kevin Harvick in his father’s old ride, he would go on to lead 116, over 70% of the race’s distance. It was his race to lose. But, during green flag pitstops, a wreck occurred and Jr. was shuffled back to the 8th position with under 20-laps to go. Due to the rules concerning lapped cars at the time, Jr. would have to pass 13 cars to recapture the lead–a tall order for any driver. Another late-race caution took the lapped cars out of the equation. Still, Jr. was scored 6th with only 6 laps left.

Jr. made short work of his competitors, though. After the green flag flew for the final time, Dale Jr. forced Tony Stewart in his No. 20 JGR Pontiac wide and slipped under him, following Jeremy Mayfield through to 5th. He then used Mayfield as a pick to get by Ken Schrader. With the help of Mike Wallace, Dale Jr. was through to 2nd and though Johnny Benson attempted to block, there was no holding off that white No. 8. Junebug rocketed to the lead.

As the field circled around to take the white flag, the roars of the engines were almost inaudible due to the screaming crowd. Michael Waltrip also was somehow able to thread enough needles through to second. He never got to celebrate his win in the Daytona 500 and, to hammer it home, he pushed his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. across the start/finish line. They ran first and second in the most important win in NASCAR history.

EllyProductions recounts this story as The Greatest NASCAR Story of All Time. He says that while Dale’s death was something nobody wanted to face, with spirit and togetherness, even the darkest days can be overcome.

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Elly Productions is one of the fastest-growing, up-and-coming NASCAR channels on YouTube with bi-weekly video essays and a vast array of stop motions, edits, and reactionary content for all racing fans to enjoy!

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