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Hall of Fame's first class: Dale Earnhardt
Wednesday, Oct. 07, 2009

In only his second full season, 1980, Dale Earnhardt earned his first title.

Competed: 1975-2001

Starts: 676

Wins: 76

Poles: 22

Shares the record for most Sprint Cup Series championships, at seven, with Richard Petty.

In only his second full season, 1980, Earnhardt earned his first title. He won consecutive titles on three separate occasions (1986-87, ’90-91 and ’93-94). Earnhardt’s 76 victories rank seventh all-time.

Tom Higgins on 'The Intimidator'

Motorsports writer and historian Tom Higgins shares a standout memory of each of the 10 nominees we're featuring as we count down to the NASCAR Hall of Fame vote and announcement.

Bristol, Tenn. – March 31, 1979

Jake Elder, a colorful crew chief, was holding court with reporters at Bristol International Raceway.

Elder turned to his rookie driver, sitting alongside on the pit wall. “Stick with me kid, and we’ll both be wearing diamonds as big as horse turds.”

The reporters chuckled in doubt.

They shouldn’t have.

The rookie driver, then 28, won the Southeastern 500 the next day. It was no April Fool’s Day development.

The newcomer’s name: Dale Earnhardt.

Elder, nicknamed “Suitcase” because he changed jobs so often, left Earnhardt’s team midway through the 1980 season. But Earnhardt backed up Elder’s foresight by winning that season’s Winston Cup championship.

And he kept on living up to the prediction through succeeding seasons, gaining admiration from rivals for his courage, but stirring anger with an aggressive driving style.

Said the veteran driver Cale Yarborough, “You couldn’t castrate Dale Earnhardt with a chainsaw.”

And you can’t imagine the number of big diamonds he could have bought.