Dale Earnhardt's mother reflects on son's career

Martha and Ralph Earnhardt

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by SONJA GANTT / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Sonja: SGantt@WCNC.com

WCNC.com

Posted on May 7, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 8:28 AM

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- She was 18 years old with a 5-month-old baby when her husband decided to change jobs, moving from a mill worker to a race car driver.

Martha Earnhardt didn't like the idea. 

"I just didn't think that was the career he needed to have. He got the bug and I threatened to leave but I joined him instead of leaving him," she said.

It's a good thing she did. Racing not only allowed Ralph Earnhardt to support their five children, it also paved the way for his oldest son, Dale, to become one of the most successful and most popular drivers the sport has ever seen.

"He's the only one who showed any interest in wanting to drive a car," Martha Earnhardt said of Dale. "They were all involved. They all would go out in the garage and help their dad and do things, but he was really the only one who wanted to drive."

But even after her husband's success in the sport, she still tried to talk Dale out of following in his father's footsteps.

"I didn't think that he knew what he was doing," she said, laughing.

Dale Earnhardt proved his mother wrong time and time again. In 22 full seasons on the NASCAR circuit, Earnhardt won seven Winston Cup championships and was the three-time winner of the All-Star race. He's earned his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

"I was a little bit shocked in some sense that some of the older drivers would not be inducted first," Martha Earnhardt said.

But not too surprised, considering all the times he reached victory lane and his ability.

"He knew how to drive a race car better than anyone that I ever saw. Of course, I'm sort of prejudiced. But I just couldn't believe it. It's just hard to take it in really that my child is well known all over the world," she said.

Just how well known and how loved he was was apparent to Martha Earnhardt after Dale's death during the Daytona 500 in 2001.

In the midst of her grief, she was both amazed and comforted by the thousands of fans who flocked to the Mooresville headquarters of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. And still today whenever she meets fans, they share plenty of stories about what her son has meant to them. 

"I have really met a lot of people that love my child and that really humbles me and makes me feel good to know how much they cared about him," she said.

She believes Dale would be proud of the Hall of Fame honor and also proud of his own son Dale Jr.'s success on the track.

Now at the age of 80, after more than 60 years in which she's had many children work in the industry and  been the wife, mother and grandmother of a driver,  Martha Earnhardt can fully embrace racing as the family business.

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