The following blog post is from Brother Dylan Kirk, State Senior Councilor of Pennsylvania DeMolay and PMC of Westmoreland Chapter.
In light of PA DeMolay's GO Racing theme, here is the story of the Dale Earnhardt Tragedy. The day was Sunday, February 18th 2001. The location was Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida. One of the greatest tragedies in NASCAR history occurred on this date. It was the final lap of the Daytona 500, traveling 180 mph, Dale Earnhardt’s car was tapped from behind, turned around and collided head-on with the retaining wall. He never regained consciousness after the crash and had to be cut from his vehicle. At 5:16 PM EST, Dale Earnhardt was officially pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Halifax Medical Center. "This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I've ever had to personally make," said NASCAR president Mike Helton, "but after the accident in turn four at the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt." "The Intimidator" was one of the greatest drivers to ever live. The 7-time Winston Cup champion had won the Daytona 500 in 1998, in his 20th appearance in the event. He had a total of 76 Winston Cup victories, including 34 on the Daytona track, and was the most active driver on the circuit.
After the crash, there has been some controversy that Earnhardt’s lap belt broke during the wreck due to it not being installed properly so Earnhardt could be more comfortable. It was eventually discovered that had the lap belt been installed properly, it would not have saved Earnhardt’s life. There were several safety improvements made in the sport of stock car racing. In response to the speculation about the broken lap belt in Earnhardt's car, many teams migrated from traditional five to six-point safety harnesses. After the 2001 ARCA EasyCare 100 at Lowe's Motor Speedway resulted in the death of Blaise Alexander, NASCAR mandated the use of head and neck restraints. In addition to head and neck restraints, NASCAR began requiring the use of SAFER barriers at race tracks in which its top touring series compete. The soft walls feature foam and move slightly upon impact, dissipating energy and resulting in fewer forces being exerted on the driver during an impact.
As today is the 17th anniversary of the passing of Dale Earnhardt, please join me in remembering his legacy. Today is also the 60th Daytona 500 race, so on behalf of PA DeMolay, we hope you enjoy the race.