The Death of Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt
By Kevin Fitzpatrick friend Jim Williams sends us this:

Here are three photos of the interior of Dale Earnhardts car after the accident. These photos show, not only a very bloody interior (the blood left on the seat clearly shows that Dale had a massive hemmorage after the crash, and still hasn’t even dried!) but also clearly shows the dumped “broken” seat restraint. These photos were taken the next day by the county medical examiner.

If you post these images, caution your visitors to the graphic nature of them.

So there you go.  Consideryourselves warned.  Oh, and enjoy.  Thanks, Jim – S

Pictureone   Picture two   Picture three

Stock car racing and the South go together like fried chicken and Pepsi. Sowhen the greatest driver the sport’s ever known was killed in a spectacularcrash, the entire Southern portion of the United States acted as if Elvis haddied. Well he did. But instead of keeling over alone on his throne, DaleEarnhardt bought it with a TV camera mounted over his shoulder and millionswatching him wipe out and die in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Sports stars get killed in their prime all the time. Just lately it’s been BobbyPhills of the Charlotte Hornets, U.S. Open champ Payne Stewart and the KansasCity Chiefs’ Derrick Thomas. But the 7-time Winston Cup Champion did it live onFOX TV.

The heroic comparisons started before his body was even cold. Pick yourmetaphor, sportscasters threw around that the 49 year-old Earnhardt’s death waslike Michael Jordan dying in a Bulls playoff game or Mark McGwire biting itwhile still in his home run chase. The Southern media held him up to be BabeRuth in a Monte Carlo.

The Feb. 18 crash of “The Intimidator” looked almost routine by NASCARstandards, especially considering what had happened just minutes earlier. Afternearly three wild hours of side-by-side racing, a 19-car crash sent TonyStewart’s car hurtling skyward, flames shooting out of the engine. BobbyLabonte’s car was on fire, too, and minutes later, the garages looked like ajunkyard.

That pushed the finale deeper into the afternoon, turning the 500 into a 26-lapsprint for the checkered flag.
As the drivers passed under the white flag that signifies the beginning of thefinal lap, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had begun to separatethemselves from a pack that included Earnhardt, Kenny Schrader, Sterling Marlinand a hard-charging Rusty Wallace.

Most fans at the track must have thought Earnhardt was getting ready for onefinal run, a chance to slingshot past the two leaders and win his second Daytona500. Here is a photograph of Dale and hiswife Teresa, just before his fatal run.  Then again, maybe not.Observers could see Earnhardt was blocking the other cars from getting near theother two cars on his team, part of his sponsorship dollars ahead of him.

Half a lap passed, then two-thirds, and the famous black Chevrolet hadn’t madeits move. Racing for third place? What was the strategy? Still, it kind of madesense. Ahead of Earnhardt were his two employees — Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip,the hard-luck driver who’d never won a Daytona 500 in 15 years of trying.

As Earnhardt appeared to try to block the drivers behind him, his car driftedever so slightly toward the bottom of the track, where Marlin was holding hisline as they entered Turn 3.

Cue music. Contact ensued. Wham-o.

Earnhardt’s Monte Carlo skidded quickly downward onto the apron of the track,fishtailing. As the cars rounded the bend, the nose of his Chevy tilted towardthe outside wall and Schrader plowed into its passenger side. Earnhardt slammedheadfirst into the wall at Turn 4 at about 180 mph. He probably died instantly.

As No. 3 slid down toward the infield and came to rest, Waltrip and EarnhardtJr. zoomed toward the checkered flag. Television cameras left the wreck behindto pan toward the finish.

Waltrip won, but didn’t know his boss was dead. As Waltrip drove by the smokingwreck on his victory lap, doctors werereaching into the wreckage of Earnhardt’s car trying to save a life already lost.Moments later, Waltrip was 2,000 feet away basking in his victory. In theinfield, firefighters cut into the wreckage so Earnhardt’s body could be removedand placed in the meat wagon.

Read the accident report, from

Minutes later, Waltrip stood on a tower high above the track for moreinterviews. This was one of the few places that offered a view of the entirescene. Before Waltrip took the first question, he knew he was no longer thestory.

“My heart is hurting right now,” he said. “I would rather be anyplace right this moment than here. It’s so painful.”

As Dale Beaver, the Winston Cup chaplain, headed to Victory Lane to offer acelebratory handshake to Waltrip, frantic word came that he was needed in theinfield care center. Beaver went directly to Halifax Hospital to join Earnhardtand his family. He was present when doctors pronounced Earnhardt dead, consolinghis wife, Teresa, and son, Dale Jr.

A few fans and the press waited outside the hospital’s trauma unit. Somebystanders saw a maroon hearse back into an emergency room entrance. Hospitalstaff held up sheets in front of the hearse’s windows to block the public’sview. About five minutes later the hearse left, led by two cops on motorcycles.The car was covered by a tarp, andtaken to a garage. (thank youto Gerald for that photo)

The night of the crash, Dr. Steve Bohannon, director of emergency medicalservices at Daytona International Speedway, said there were no visible signs oftrauma to Earnhardt’s face after the crash and that he felt the fact thatEarnhardt wore an open-faced helmet did not contribute to his injuries. Fivedays later, however, he changed his theory, saying that a closed-face helmet ofthe type worn by almost every other Winston Cup driver might have made adifference.

There was a candlelight vigil heldthat night.

“If he had protection over his chin in this area of contact, the forceswould have been different to his body and he would have a different pattern ofinjuries,” Bohannon said. “Certainly in this particular case afull-faced helmet would have been of benefit.”

It was discovered that a seat belt had broken. Bohannon said that had the beltnot broken, Earnhardt might not have been killed in the crash.  Here is aview from the driver seat.(thank you to Gerald for that photo)

“It appears this did allow his body to move forward and it appears thatprobably his chin struck the steering column in such a way that the forces weretransmitted up the mandible on each side to fracture the base of his skull. Thechest hitting would account for the rib fractures.”

There were two Earnhardt services. The first was a private family funeral onFeb. 21 in Kannapolis, N.C., about 27 miles from Charlotte. Earnhardt reportedlywas buried following a service attended only by his family and closest friends.Nobody will say where, or even if, the auto racing legend was laid to rest inKannapolis.

In the Kannapolis Independent Tribune, an article quoting an unnamed Earnhardtfamily member, added to the mystery. “I can’t make a statement on behalf ofthe family,” the person said, “but we did not attend a burial servicefor Dale Earnhardt in Kannapolis on Wednesday.”

Earnhardt was publicly eulogized Feb. 22 in a strangely muted affair at Charlotte’sCalvary Church. There were flowers and there was music and there was a largecrowd, but there didn’t seem to be enough flowers and there wasn’t enough musicand there certainly weren’t enough people. There was almost nothing in CalvaryChurch connecting the service to a seven-time Winston Cup champion. No pictures,memorabilia or references to his storied career save for a red,white and black floral arrangement in the shape of “3” near thepulpit.

The massive church, which can hold asmany as 5,800 people, was host to approximately 4,000 on Feb. 22, and thatnot-so-full house witnessed a ceremony that was almost jarringly brief andsurprisingly bereft of depth or color. The service was broadcast live on FOXSports as 45 TV satellite trucks beamed reports across the country.

UPDATE MARCH 2001 friend Juliesends this:  For the record the picture does not do justice to the size andbeauty of this church.  Itis HUGE.  As you can see it was taken from across a roadway so that Icould get it all in the picture. The back and the sides are just as big as thisfront shot looks.  It really is a beautiful sight. 

Earnhardt’s children sat in the front row. Taylor Nicole, the youngest at 12,entered with Earnhardt’s widow, Teresa, accompanied by a state trooper, and satwith sons Dale Jr., 26, and Kerry, 31, and daughter Kelley, 28. This being theSouth, you had to have country music stars there, and they got Randy Owens, KixBrooks and Ronnie Dunn. Representing NASCAR were drivers Terry and Bobby Labonte,Jerry Nadeau, Bobby and Donnie Allison, and Sterling Marlin, who had receivedhate mail and death threats from fans who blamed him for the fatal crash.

After an introduction by John Cozart, pastor of the family’s church inMooresville, race chaplain Beaver gave the eulogy. It was sandwiched by twosongs from Owens, a singer in the group Alabama.

About 20 minutes into the service, Earnhardt’s widow made her way to the podium,apparently to say something to the crowd. Instead, clutching her hands to herchest, it was all she could do to whisper two barely audible “thank yous”before exiting the church on the arm of her state trooper. And like that, it wasall over in 22 minutes.

In the days following the memorial service, there were press conferences thatNASCAR held to detail the investigation. The broken seat belt story was trottedout. Dale Jr. said he’d continue to race and doesn’t blame anyone for hisfather’s crash. A special Earnhardt sticker was unveiled that was to be slappedon all stock cars. The Feb. 25 race at Rockingham wasn’t postponed, and Dale Jr.was in the starting lineup. There’s a saying in the stock car racing world:”Keep the shiny side up, dirty side down.” Uh-huh.

Kevin Fitzpatrick is a New York City writer. You can visit his web site,

Thank you Kevin.

News from friend SDS: If I heard correctly, FOXSPORTS NET (who broadcasted the Dale Earnhardt memorial service from Charlotte last week) sold/gave thebroadcast rights to the service to Theresa Earnhardt. She allowed broadcast of the servicenationwide under the following stipulations . . . . 1) no close-ups of the family were allowed 2) FOX, nor anyother of the local TV stations locally in town (as well I’m sure nationwide) weren’t allowed to use footagefrom the service in their reports (though afterwards, they as well as NASCAR fans from throughout thecountry who were waiting outside were allowed to enter the church and take pictures) and 3) there willnever be a rerun of the service on the air since she assumed those rights. Though I’m sure some Net savvyguy will try to set up an Earnhardt website and broadcast it on the Net at some point . . . . .

The Smoking has contacted me, and toldme that they have Dale’s autopsy report online.  You can see it here


Kevin Fitzpatrick tells me that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is cashing inon his old man’s death. he’s given LONG interviews about it to MTV, Rolling Stone, Playboy (all the classy places).

Also, In June 2001, Attorneys seeking access to the autopsy photos attacked a new Florida law that seals such pictures, telling a judge that it is vague and unconstitutional. The law makes it a felony to release autopsy photos without a judge’s permission. Previously, such photos had been a public record.

“The photographs are humiliating, disgusting and negative,” Teresa Earnhardt said. “That could be nothing but harmful and painful to anyone involved with my family, my company, our fans, anyone.”

The Independent Florida Alligator, the newspaper that serves the University of Florida community in Gainesville, and were seeking access to the photos, arguing that a public review could prevent future racing fatalities. 

Circuit Judge Joseph Will said releasing the photos would cause harm to Earnhardt’s family. Will rejected the arguments calling them “incredibly thin excuses” for invading the families privacy.

“The [newspaper’s and Web site’s] argument was a constitutional shell game,” said Parker Thompson, an Earnhardt lawyer.

The Alligator argued the images should be made public to show whether investigators did an adequate job of determining what killed Earnhardt. owner Michael Uribe said he wants to view the photos to prove the Volusia County medical examiner’s office did a poor job on Earnhardt’s autopsy. Uribe already has posted autopsy photos of drivers Rodney Orr and Neil Bonnett on his Web site. 

Relatives of the dead drivers testified they were devastated by the posting of the photos on the Web site. “I can’t sleep at night,” said Orr’s father. “I lay down and I see him on the table there naked. That’s what I see.” friend April Joyce sendsthis:  The Accident Report is IN!  Did you know that he was also achicken farmer, and raised chickens for Purdue Farms?  Seeit here.

Added November 2003
Just wanna drop you a line to correct you in your saying that Dale EarnhardtJr is “cashing in on his old man’s death” by giving interviews toRolling Stone and MTV. He doesn’t get to choose what the interviewers ask him,and most of them do ask them about his father’s death. It’s a big part of hislife, and he is living in his father’s shadow, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. He is definitelynot “cashing in.” So I would appreciate it if you re-write thatstatement. Thank You.


Toronto, Canada

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