Dale Earnhardt Sr. is killed during the 2001 Daytona 500. On the front stretch coming to 3 laps to go, Sterling Marlin made contact with Earnhardt’s left rear fender. Earnhardt’s car wiggled but Dale kept control and he remained in third position. Marlin was known for having a fast car throughout the race, and Earnhardt repeatedly blocked his attempts at passing during the last few laps. With less than two laps remaining, Darrell Waltrip commented that “Sterling has beat the front end off of that old Dodge (Marlin’s car) trying to get around Dale (Earnhardt)”.
Heading into Turn 3 on the last lap, Earnhardt was racing three wide with Marlin to his left and Schrader to his right. In the corner, Earnhardt’s left rear fender made slight contact with Marlin’s front bumper.
Earnhardts car slid off the track’s steep banking, onto the flat apron, and then turned sharply up the track toward the outside retaining wall. As the #3 car came up the track it collided with the #36 Pontiac driven by Ken Schrader. Schrader’s car hit Earnhardt’s car just behind the passenger door, causing both cars to run nose-first into the wall. Earnhardt’s #3 hit at a critical angle at nearly 150 miles per hour. The right-rear wheel assembly broke off the car on impact. The hood pins severed and the hood flapped open, slamming against the windshield as the car slid slowly down the track. To most observers, the crash looked minor, and certainly not as dramatic as his famous 1996 wreck at Talladega, when Earnhardt’s car was pelted several times in the roof and windshield as it slid across the track.
While Michael Waltrip raced toward the checkered flag to claim his first victory, with Earnhardt Jr. close behind, the cars of Earnhardt and Schrader slid off the track’s asphalt banking toward the infield grass just inside of turn four. After climbing from his car, Schrader peered into Earnhardt’s car, only to jump back and signal for EMTs. As medical crews converged upon the crash scene, NASCAR on Fox reporter Jeanne Zelasko asked Schrader about Earnhardt’s condition. “I’m not a doctor, but I got the heck out of the way as soon as they got there,” Schrader said solemnly. Earnhardt was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after being removed from his car. Hours later, at a press conference, NASCAR President Mike Helton made the formal announcement to the world saying, “Undoubtedly this is one of the toughest announcements I’ve personally had to make. After the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”
R.I.P. Dale Earnhardt Sr.