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Ralph Earnhardt
Born: February 23, 1928      Died: September 26, 1973
Home: Kannapolis, NC

Ralph Lee Earnhardt  was a NASCAR racing legend. He was the father of Dale Earnhardt, the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt, and great grandfather of Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Ralph was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina to Effie Mae Barber and John Henderson Earnhardt. He spent many years working in a cotton mill in North Carolina. One of the only ways out of this poor living was racing.

Racing Career

He started his racing career on dirt tracks where he was famous for keeping his car in top condition throughout each race and was the first car builder/drivers to understand and use tire stagger.

In 1956, he won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship. He had a second place finish in his first Grand National race in 1956. In 1961, Ralph had his highest finish by finishing 17th in the Grand National point standings.

Ralph Earnhardt died at the age of 45 on September 26, 1973 from a heart attack in his garage while working beneath his car and was found shortly after by his son Dale Earnhardt, Sr. lying on the garage floor.

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Ralph Earnhardt Collector Cards are very popular

He no longer thunders through turn four with dust swirling, nor speeds down the front straightaway everyone to take the checkered flag, those who knew Ralph Earnhardt can see him still. He was the epitome of a race car driver.

Ralph Lee Earnhardt was born February 23, 1928, in Kannapolis North Carolina. It was from there, in a garage behind his home that he began his life's work - building race cars for himself and others. But more importantly, he drove these cars to hundreds of wins and countless State and track championships. He won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship in 1956, finished in the top ten of the NASCAR National Sportsman point standings six years and finished 17th in the NASCAR Grand National (now Winston Cup) point standings in 1961.

Ralph Earnhardt "Mr. Consistency," preferred to race four to five times per week near his home rather than endure the hassle of traveling far from home, wife and children. He did, however, drive over 50 races in the Grand National (now Winston Cup) circuit for such renowned car builders as Cotton Owens and Lee Petty.

He was an innovator. He utilized tire stagger when no one else even knew what it was, built "bite" into his race cars and installed crash bars in the driver door for driver protection, undoubtedly saving many lives. Ralph never had to work on his car at a race track. He would just change tires, go out, and beat everyone. According to Ned Jarrett, "Ralph Earnhardt was absolutely the toughest race driver I ever raced against. On the dirt and asphalt short tracks in Sportsman competition, when you went to the track you knew he was the man to beat."

Ralph Earnhardt, the quintessential race driver whose career spanned 23 years of competition in NASCAR Modified, Sportsman and Grand National series, won more than 350 NASCAR races and never looked back.

Ralph Earnhardt passed away, from a heart attack, on September 26, 1973, at the age of 45.

May 6, 1961
Driving for Cotton Owens in the Rebel 300 at Darlington, SC, Ralph Earnhardt
makes his NASCAR Grand National debut.


2004 Hall of Fame Inductee
Ralph Earnhardt

As patriarch of the Earnhardt family, Ralph Earnhardt was known as one of the hardest chargers of the old school racers and respected by the drivers and car owners alike, Ralph Earnhardt was considered the epitome of a true race car driver.

Foregoing the travel demands of the NASCAR circuit, Ralph chose to race primarily on the NC short tracks around his home - allowing him to focus his attention on his racecars and family - although not particularly in that order. He mastered these short tracks compiling hundreds of victories and countless state and track championships winning the Sportsman division championship in 1956.

Whenever the opportunity arose, Ralph participated in Grand National (now Nextel Cup) events driving for such notable car builders as Cotton Owens, Petty Engineering and Pete DePaolo racing. Racing a limited NASCAR Grand National schedule in 1961, Ralph Earnhardt finished in the top 10 seven of eight races he ran during the season.

His car building skills were known throughout the racing circuit. As an innovator of the sport, Ralph Earnhardt was the first car builder/driver to understand and use tire stagger, developed the capability to adjust the amount of bite in his race cars as well as standardizing crash bars on the driver side door.

His innovations and racing ability has been recognized throughout the years. Between competing in the Modified, Sportsman and Grand National series, Ralph won over 350 races as well as holding the track championship at seven different racing venues during his racing career. Sadly, the racing community lost Ralph Earnhardt to a heart attack in 1973 while working on one of his race cars.

In 1989, Ralph Earnhardt was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama in 1997 and was voted as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998.

Ralph Earnhardt (8) is about to put Haskell Willingham (50) a lap down
in a Late Model Sportsman main event at Columbia speedway in July,
(Photo by Dargan Watts)

Ralph Earnhardt on Daytona Beach in the #200 being chased by .... the number 3!

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Ralph Earnhardt DRIVER Statistics

Grand National Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1956 28 1 of 56 0 1 1 1 250 15 625 148 1.0 2.0
1957 29 9 of 53 0 0 3 0 1465 0 1,150 37 10.8 12.4
1961 33 8 of 52 0 2 5 0 1664 90 11,473 17 9.9 11.0
1962 34 17 of 53 0 2 6 0 2022 0 4,545 29 19.7 18.6
1963 35 5 of 55 0 0 0 0 491 0 1,995 94 26.0 30.6
1964 36 11 of 62 0 1 1 0 1107 0 3,290 46 16.7 17.7
6 years 51 0 6 16 1 6999 105 23,078   16.1 17.0

Convertible Series

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1957 29 1 of 36 0 0 1 0 148 0 205   5.0 7.0
1959 31 1 of 15 0 1 1 0 199 0 250   10.0 4.0
2 years 2 0 1 2 0 347 0 455   7.5 5.5


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