DAYTONA, FLA. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – February 18 marks 20 years to the day that the world lost “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt Sr in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
The sport hasn’t been the same since but his impact on NASCAR is felt every time a driver gets behind the wheel.
“It’s one of those things you’ll never forget because a hero of our sport passed away,” Richard Childress No.3 driver Austin Dillon said.
With the Daytona 500 set for Sunday, drivers are still telling stories from that day.
“There was a little TV there just watching the last lap of the race,” Spire Motorsports No. 7 driver Corey Lajoie recalled. “We’re watching it, Dale gets hooked, and it wasn’t ten minutes later (my) dad’s phone starts going and we loaded up to head back to North Carolina. Dad was on the phone the entire time.”
“Being a kid and seeing some of the people I looked up to as a kid being vulnerable, my grandfather, seeing tears in his eyes and not really knowing what was going on other than we just lost a hero in our sport,” Dillon said.
After the incident, safety measures were implemented at the track and in cars that would change safety in the sport forever, including the Hans device, which protects the head and neck from the likelihood of injury in a crash.
“To me, the single biggest thing that’s happened over the last 20 years is the culture, and the culture around safety, the ability for all of us to talk about it,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “It’s something that everyone believes we should be talking about.”
There have not been any deaths in NASCAR since those safety measures were improved in 2001.