20 Years Ago: The Day That NASCAR Changed Forever
If you are a NASCAR fan then you know exactly where you were 20 years ago today, February 18th, 2001. It's a day that all race fans will remember forever and it was one of the biggest tragedies not only in racing but in all of sport.
It was the day that Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. He was blocking the drivers behind him so that his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Michael Waltrip could win the Great American Race.
Dale was the owner of the car that Waltrip was driving and he eventually won the race. Some say that it was the first time that Earnhardt was unselfish on the track and it ended up costing him his life.
Adding to the tragedy is that he was turned into the wall by one of his best friends, Ken Schrader. As accidents go, it didn't look nearly as bad as the crash that happened less than an hour earlier but more on that later. Ken was the first on the scene after Dale's car ended up in the grass and his reaction wasn't good.
I remember watching the ambulance slowly driving away with Earnhardt in it. At the time we didn't know how bad it was but I could tell by the speed it was driving that it wasn't good.
I remember my dad saying to me, "What are we going to do now." Earnhardt was my father's favorite driver and he still has his memorabilia in a glass hutch at his house. For many fans, we believe that the end of NASCAR as we know it ended that day and I have to agree.
Back to the other crash, 45 minutes earlier Tony Stewart was involved in a big wreck down the front straightaway. That crash looked so much worse than Earnhardts and as a Joe Gibb racing fan, I was extremely worried when I saw the #20 Home Depot rolling over and over.
The one upside to Dale's crash is that NASCAR made many changes to make the cars safer. In fact, those changes saved Ryan Newman's life when he was involved in a similar crash in 2020.
What do you remember from that race in 2001?