Dale Earnhardt in a photo from the late 1990s (Credit: ... Dale Earnhardt in a photo from the late 1990s (Credit: Wikipedia).
On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash during the final lap of the Daytona 500. Though he was only 49 years old when he died, Earnhardt had already established himself as a racing legend and his death was mourned by the world.

Born in 1951, Earnhardt's father -- Ralph Lee Earnhardt -- was also an accomplished race car driver. Although he did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Earnhardt dropped out of school to race anyways, honing his craft to become one of the greatest racers of all time.

During his racing career, Earnhardt won 76 Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) races and took home 7 Cup championships, a feat only accomplished by one other person: the legendary Richard Petty.

During the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt's car was turned from behind after coming into contact with Sterling Marlin's car. He then hit the outside wall nose first at an estimated speed of 155 to 160 mph, contacted Ken Schrader's car and slid off of the track onto the infield grass. Earnhardt was taken to the Halifax Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead due to blunt force trauma to the head.

Earnhardt's death had far-reaching after effects. A media frenzy ensued worldwide, as racing fans had not experienced a death of this magnitude since Ayrton Senna died in 1994. Allegations of seat belt failure caused the resignation of the president of company that manufactured seat belts for almost every NASCAR vehicle. And NASCAR implemented rigorous new safety regulations following a police investigation of the accident.

Earnhardt's number 3 has been unofficially retired and his legacy continues to be honored by NASCAR fans and in popular culture world wide. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to race in NASCAR today.

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