It’s been 20 years since Dale Earnhardt’s death. His crash in the Daytona 500 lives in infamy in the hearts of NASCAR fans everywhere.
NASCAR lost one of its biggest legends during one of its biggest racing events on the Daytona International Speedway in 2001. Earnhardt’s crash and death sent ripples throughout all of NASCAR. The sport was split into two distinct periods. In many ways, there’s before and after Earnhardt’s death.
Looking back on Earnhardt’s crash, here’s everything that you need to know about that fateful day at the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt’s wreck happened during the final lap of the race. The driver was in fourth place, gunning for first when the accident occurred. Earnhardt’s car clipped into Sterling Marlin’s vehicle, sending Earnhardt’s iconic No. 3 Chevrolet careening into the wall. Earnhardt was going about 180 mph when his car impacted on the turn. Meanwhile, fellow driver Ken Schrader then crashed into Earnhardt, making a bad situation worse.
“There was nothing that could have been done for him,” Steve Bohannon, a doctor at Halifax Medical Center, told ESPN.
Earnhardt experienced injuries to his head and died almost instantly upon impact. After the wreck, safety officials managed to free the driver from the wreckage. They took him to the hospital, but it was already too late.
Dale Earnhardt’s Death Changed the Industry
Earnhardt’s death sped up a difficult conversation that was already taking place in the industry. In 2000, three drivers had already died due to accidents while racing. Now, Earnhardt joined their ranks during a tragedy that devastated NASCAR and its fanbase.
The organization decided to make several changes after Earnhardt’s death to improve safety during races. For one, they created a seven-point restraint system to secure drivers in their seats. They also developed a head and neck support device to protect against head injuries. The device attaches to the sides of the driver’s helmet to prevent injury.
In the years since Earnhardt’s death, there have been numerous crashes in NASCAR, including one during the 2020 Daytona 500. But in the two decades since the icon’s death, not another driver has died from racing in the sport. Though his death was tragic, Earnhardt’s passing ensured future drivers have the proper safety they need.
“20 years ago, I don’t think I would be here,” driver Ryan Newman said during a Earnhardt memorial video. “There’s no doubt.”
Earnhardt’s legacy continues to live on in the sport through the safety measures and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s successful career.