12 years ago today, on February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt lost his life on the last turn of the last lap of NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
A nearly head-on crash into the wall at Daytona International Speedway proved to be fatal for NASCAR’s most famous driver. A seven-time Cup champion with 76 race victories in his records, Earnhardt left a huge void that to this day has never been completely filled.
He was only 49 when he passed away and is still remembered every year by his fans. No other NASCAR driver that has lost his life behind the wheel has ever been remembered so solemnly or for so long.
Earnhardt’s death triggered a massive safety campaign within NASCAR, which introduced softer walls, head and neck restraint systems (HANS), in-car data recorders and safer race cars. All these made NASCAR racing much safer. No other drivers in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck series have died behind the wheel ever since.
The sport has Earnhardt to thank for that, as his death prompted NASCAR to take action on safety. The only other major motorsports series that has had a longer run of races without deaths has been Formula One, where no other driver has been killed since 1994 and the loss of Ayrton Senna.