DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, 49,
was fatally injured Sunday in a multi-car accident on the final lap of the 43rd Daytona
500 at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt, a native of Kannapolis, N.C., was Daytona's career victories leader and
the winner of the 1998 Daytona 500. According to Dr. Steve Bohannon, emergency medical
services director at Daytona International Speedway who responded to the crash, Earnhardt
was killed instantly.
"He had what I feel were life-ending type injuries at the time of impact," Dr. Bohannon
said. "Really nothing could be done for him."
The announcement was made at 7 p.m. ET by NASCAR President Mike Helton.
"Undoubtedly this is one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make,"
said Helton, whose motorsports career covers more than 20 years. "After the accident
in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500 we've lost Dale Earnhardt."
Earnhardt's death was the 27th in the history of the track, which opened with the
inaugural Speedweeks in 1959. The first fatality was Daytona Beach native Marshall
Teague, who died before Speedweeks began while testing an Indy car for a world closed
course speed record.
"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver," said NASCAR chairman of the board Bill France,
who himself is recovering from life-threatening illnesses, "and I personally have
lost a great friend."
"The death of Dale Earnhardt is heartbreaking for millions of racing fans around
the world," said Eddie Gossage, General Manager of Texas Motor Speedway. "I, too,
am heartbroken. Athletes in other sports would be wise to follow Dale's model of
what a champion is supposed to be. He had great dignity - both on the track and off."
Earnhardt started his 23rd Daytona 500 from the seventh position and was racing for
third when the accident occurred.
His No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was bumped into the spin by Sterling
Marlin's closely following No. 40 Dodge between Turns 3 and 4 of the 2.5-mile speedway
as a tangled pack of cars raced to the checkered flag. Rescue workers immediately
responded and began administering oxygen and CPR to Earnhardt, who according to Dr.
Bohannon never showed any sign of life at any time.
He was immediately transported to Halifax Medical Center, less than one-mile from
the speedway, where he arrived at 4:54. There, a waiting trauma team continued attempting
to resuscitate him. Earnhardt was pronounced dead at 5:16 with his wife, Teresa at
his side. Bohannon said an autopsy scheduled for Monday would reveal the cause of
death, but said, "my speculation would be head injuries, basically to the base of
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 26, immediately left the track after finishing second in the
race to be at the hospital with his father and stepmother, Earnhardt's wife Teresa.
Earnhardt's newest driver, Michael Waltrip, was interviewed in the Daytona press
box after his first career victory in 463 starts without realizing his car owner
was already deceased.
In the accident, Ken Schrader's No. 36 Pontiac struck Earnhardt's car in the right
side after the famous black No. 3 shot up the race track to spear the outside wall.
"I don't know what happened -- all of a sudden we were all crashing," said Schrader,
who was unhurt in the accident. "I guess someone got into Dale because Dale got into
me and then we went up. We hit pretty hard and Dale hit harder."
Schrader tried to visit Earnhardt's car after the accident ended, but quickly left
"I went over there and then they (safety workers) got there real quick, so I got
the hell out of the way," Schrader said. "I'm fine. I'm fine -- I'm just thinking
about Dale and those guys."
"The only reason why I won this race was Dale Earnhardt," said Waltrip, who was unaware
of the news while he was being interviewed. "I wondered why he wasn't in Victory
Lane until I found out he was hurt."
Earnhardt was the career victories leader at Daytona. His 34th career victory here
came in the 2000 opening round of the True Value International Race of Champions.
He made 676 starts in his Winston Cup career, which began in 1975. He was the 1975
Winston Cup Rookie of the Year and won his first championship the next season. He
is sixth on the career Winston Cup victories list with 76 and was on a path to break
Terry Labonte's current consecutive starts record of 655. Earnhardt's final start
was his 649th straight.
Earnhardt is motorsports' leading all-time money winner with $41,639,662 in his career.
He had also fashioned a multi-million-dollar business and souvenir empire.
Included among Earnhardt's survivors are wife Teresa, daughters Kelley King and Taylor,
sons Kerry and Dale Jr., his mother and other siblings.
The standard post-Daytona 500 ceremony to induct Waltrip's winning car into DAYTONA
USA, the "Official Attraction of NASCAR" located outside the track's Turn 4, which
was scheduled to take place Monday morning, has been postponed indefinitely in deference
to Earnhardt's death, NASCAR director of operations Kevin Triplett announced at about
8 p.m. ET.