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By Dave Rodman, Turner Sports Interactive

 

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 the skull."

 

 

 

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 the area.

 

"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.

 

Earnhardt dies following Daytona 500 accident

 

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