Dale Earnhardt Continues to Leave His Mark on Country Music

by Jim Casey

When Dale Earnhardt, 49, died during a final-lap collision at the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, he left an unrepairable void in NASCAR. Moreover, Dale’s death transcended racing sports. His absence was—and still is—felt across pop culture, especially throughout country music.

On what would have been his 71st birthday today—April 29, 2022—let’s delve into Dale’s continued impact on country music, as well as NASCAR’s. P.S., Dale Jr. always has the best birthday reminders.

Racing & Music

NASCAR and country music have always shared an unofficial kinship.

Racing legend Richard Petty, NASCAR’s version of “The King,” said, “Country music goes hand in hand with NASCAR racing. The songs speak to people about what’s going on in their own lives.”

The King’s succinct summation from 2002 is still an accurate decree today. Plus, racing and country music share plenty of history. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Marty Robbins drove in 36 Cup races. Of course, the “El Paso” singer’s full-time gig was as a country music superstar.

Over the years, there have been countless crossovers between racing and country music. Country stars often perform before, during, and after NASCAR events. And we often see country stars and NASCAR stars at the same celebratory events, like Bass Pro Shops recent World’s Fishing Fair. One of country’s biggest stars, Luke Combs, has been entertaining Daytona 500 crowds the last couple of years. And the list of racing-themed country songs is robust, to say the least. A few off the top of my head include Alabama’s “Sunday Drive,” Brad Paisley’s “Country Nation,” and Eric Church’s “Talladega.”

Crossover Stars

If you want to start talking about NASCAR drivers crossing over to star in country music videos, we could be here all day.

  • Danica Patrick in Miranda Lambert’s “Fastest Girl in Town.”
  • Elliott Sadler in Blake Shelton’s “Ol Red.”
  • Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, and more in Alan Jackson’s “Who’s Cheatin’ Who.”
  • Brett Bodine, Sterling Marlin, and more in Tracy Lawrence’s “If the Good Die Young.”
  • Jeff Gordon in Brad Paisley’s “Old Alabama.”
  • Carl Edwards in Justin Moore’s “Bait a Hook.”

Tired yet? There’s plenty more.

Of course, the most famous example is Dale Earnhardt’s appearance as a Kix Brooks impersonator in Brooks & Dunn’s 1997 video for “Honky Tonk Truth.” “The Intimidator” became “The Impersonator” for a few famous minutes.

Missing Dale Earnhardt

When Dale died, his buddy Kix Brooks said, “He had a gusto for living life like no one I’ve ever seen or ever will see again.”

On the Thursday following Dale’s death, Alabama’s Randy Owen sang in front of 3,500 mourners at a private service in Dale’s native North Carolina. Several days later, a public memorial in Nashville drew 8,000 fans. Vince Gill, Mark Collie, and Steve Wariner performed. Later that year, Garth Brooks performed “The Dance” in Dale’s honor at the 2001 NASCAR Awards Ceremony.

In the 21 years since his death, Dale Earnhardt’s name and No. 3 car have become fixtures in country songs by the genre’s biggest stars. Some of the references are subtle tributes, like the opening line of Tim McGraw’s 2009 No. 1 hit, “Southern Voice”: “Hank Williams sang it, Number Three drove it.” Other tunes, like Charlie Daniels’ 2004 song, “The Intimidator,” serve as lyrical eulogies.

Nonetheless, the Earnhardt name has been routinely extolled in country songs since his death. Dale’s legacy lives on in tunes such as Ronnie Milsap’s “Southern Boys and Detroit Wheels,” Trace Adkins’ “Rough & Ready,” Jake Owen’s “You Can Thank Dixie,” Chris Cagle’s “Chicks Dig It,” Tracy Lawrence’s “You Can’t Hide Redneck,” Montgomery Gentry’s “I’ll Keep the Kids,” Brooks & Dunn’s “Sunday Money,” and more.

Dale may be gone, but country music has certainly not forgotten him.