Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second at the 2001 Daytona 500 behind teammate Michael Waltrip. Tragically, behind the excitement of the finish line, Dale Earnhardt. Sr. was involved in a terrible accident at turn four that killed him.
A week later, at turn four of the first lap, Jr. was involved in a tough and eerily similar crash on the Dura Lube 400. When asked later, the younger Earnhardt admitted how awful he felt about his own wreck for feeling like he was mocking his father.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. dies at Daytona 500
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February 18, 2001 will always be remembered as one of the darkest days in NASCAR history. The legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. had won his only Daytona 500 just three years earlier. He wanted to add a second trophy to his collection, but circumstances forced him to make a business decision late in the race and he decided to protect his teammates Michael Waltrip and son Dale Jr., who started first and second, respectively went.
On the final lap, Dale Sr. had a front row seat as he blocked the rest of the field and watched Waltrip and Junior battle it out for victory. Unfortunately, he never saw the target.
He was involved in an accident on the last lap in which his car shot onto the track at turn four and hit the outside wall hard. In doing so, he collected Ken Schrader. Both cars slid down the embankment and stopped on the infield. It was at this point that Schrader made the gruesome discovery that his competitor and friend was in poor shape. A short time later, Earnhardt was pronounced dead in the hospital.
Junior had a similar accident a week later
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No one would have blamed Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he had decided to take time out from the competition and mourn his father. Nobody would have been surprised if they had completely removed themselves from the sport. He didn’t do either.
Earnhardt buckled into the wheel of his # 8 car the following weekend and drove the Dura Lube 400 in Rockingham. Unfortunately it didn’t take long.
Junior made it three-quarters of the way on the first lap before being hit from behind. What happened next was a bizarre and scary moment for the fans when Earnhardt’s car shot up the track to the outside wall and slammed hard on the right side. It was eerily reminiscent of the scene in the last round a week earlier, which ended in tragedy.
After the accident, cameras in the car triggered Earnhardt’s alarm and started moving. After he got out of the vehicle, firefighters helped the limping driver walk down the route to visit the Infield Care Center.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was embarrassed that he was mocking his father
Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2001. | Photo by ISC Archives / CQ Appeal Group via Getty Images
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In September 2001, Playboy gave a lengthy interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He talked about everything from his childhood, how he found his way around a racetrack, his thoughts on that tragic day in February, and a surprising conversation about his own accident the following week.
“A guy just plowed into me. Zipped me right into the wall. Everyone was talking about what my father’s wreck looked like. That was embarrassing, ”admitted Earnhardt. When asked if he was just embarrassed because it resembled his father’s accident, he said yes and then gave an interesting answer.
“I was ashamed that I mocked my father,” he said frankly.
That was Earnhardt’s personal opinion of himself. It’s fair to say his fans, and most of the racing community, have never seen it that way. The vast majority of fans were compassionate and felt sorry for him for enduring so much in a week.
He recovered that season and won three races and finished eighth on the points table.