Dale Earnhardt Dale Earnhardt was the son of a race car driver Ralph Earnhardt, who participated in the formative years of the NASCAR circuit's Grand National Division (the precursor to today's NEXTEL Cup Series). The allure of the racer's life attracted Dale to the sport although Ralph pushed the boy to stay in school to educate himself in hopes of avoiding the fate of being a simple laborer in one of the cotton mill's that populated the Kannapolis area. Much to his father's dismay, Dale quit school at the age of 16 to pursue racing and, as he became a young adult, to support his wife and their first son, Kerry.
Ralph Earnhardt died of a heart attack in his home in 1973. The weight of his father's death was great upon Dale's shoulders and it would take many years before his success in racing would make him feel as though he had "proven" himself to his father's memory.