Legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt died 19 years ago today at Daytona 500

Legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt died 19 years ago today at Daytona 500
A bronze statue of Dale Earnhardt hold the championship trophy for the Daytona 500 auto race is seen outside the entrance to Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. (Source: AP Photo/John Raoux)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - February 18, 2020, marks 19 years since the death of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt was killed in a violent crash during the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001. He was 49 years old.

He started the day at the track like so many others - a hug for his son, a tender embrace for his wife, Teresa, then he climbed into the car for the very last time.

Racing for position on the last lap, he crashed into the wall. He had to be pulled from the car and was later pronounced dead from his injuries. His funeral was held four days later at Calvary Church in Charlotte.

“He was a great son and a great race car driver,” said Martha Earnhardt, Dale’s mother, during an interview with WBTV on the ten-year anniversary of his death.

Earnhardt’s death was transformed from catastrophe to catalyst, bringing about changes in the sport to keep drivers safer.

The major changes include the HANS device, that holds the driver’s head in place during impact. Many drivers started using a stronger six-point harness seatbelt instead of five point type. Earnhardt was the fourth NASCAR driver in an eight-month span killed by a basilar skull fracture.

Driver’s seats were modified with the addition of braces on each side of the head to prevent it being jerked side to side. The cars themselves were changed with the introduction of the car of tomorrow in 2007 that moved the driver’s seat more to the middle of the car.

A significant change was the installation of buffers or soft walls at race tracks. Known as SAFER barriers, they absorb force when hit by a race car.

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