The legacy of Dale Earnhardt still looms large over NASCAR, and one of the sport's legends will be honored again during the Daytona 500 Sunday.
The 2021 Daytona 500 will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt when his famous black No. 3 Chevrolet crashed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Fans will honor the late Dale Earnhardt by holding up three fingers on Lap 3 of Sunday's race.
Also Read: Daytona 500 starting lineup
NASCAR fans will never forget the 2001 Daytona 500, one of the darkest days in the sport's history as Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in the Great American Race.
Fans will never forget driver Ken Schrader waving frantically for medical personnel as he peeked into Earnhardt's wrecked car. Or the emotion drained from victory lane as Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip was told that his boss was hurt badly and "it ain't good." Or the sight of Dale Earnhardt Jr. running down pit road as the ambulance carrying his father sped to the hospital.
Or the gut-wrenching moment when NASCAR President Mike Helton stepped to the podium and announced to the world, "We have lost Dale Earnhardt."
Throughout the 2001 season, fans held up three fingers on Lap 3 of every race to honor the late Dale Earnhardt. And 20 years later, the sport still reels from the death of the seven-time champion and racing icon.
The legacy of Dale Earnhardt still lives
"When we lost Dale Earnhardt 20 years ago, NASCAR didn't stop," Larry McReynolds, Earnhardt's former crew chief, said on Fox Race Hub Sunday morning. "We went right to Rockingham the next week and kept right on racing. But it chagned and it changed forever. He is still the face of our sport."
Fox showed a heart-felt tribute to Dale Earnhardt Sunday morning featuring Michael Waltrip, who won his first career race in Earnahrdt's car while his boss crashed in Turn 4.
"Twenty years. I thought it was a perfect day," Waltrip said in the tribute on FS1. "Driving off Turn 4 and seeing that checkered flag in the Daytona 500. My first win in the biggest NASCAR race. I remember it so clearly, standing in victory lane thinking I can't wait til Dale gets here. I had no idea what had happened. And here comes Schrader and I said, 'Cool, my friend is here.' And he said, 'It's not good, Mike.' I said, 'what do you mean?' He said, 'I just want you to be prepared, I love you, buddy, and it ain't good.' I began to ask questions, 'why isn't Dale here?'"
Earnhardt's No. 3 team continued racing in 2001 with young driver Kevin Harvick driving his car with a new No. 29. Austin Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, now drives the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing. He will start fourth in today's Daytona 500. Dillon won the 2018 Daytona 500.
"Dale Earnhardt was a hero of our sport for so many of our fans," Dillon said on FS1 Sunday. "I'm just lucky enough to be in the 3 right now and carrying on the legacy of the number. ... Winning that Duel was special and having moments like that are really cool."
Also Read: NASCAR to honor Dale Earnhardt