Open main menu

Ralph Lee Earnhardt (February 23, 1928 – September 26, 1973) was an American stock car racer. He was the father of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Taylor Putnam, and Kerry Earnhardt, and great grandfather of Jeffrey Earnhardt and Bobby Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt helped give Bobby Isaac his start in racing.[2]

Ralph Earnhardt
BornRalph Lee Earnhardt
(1928-02-23)February 23, 1928
Kannapolis, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedSeptember 26, 1973(1973-09-26) (aged 45)
Kannapolis, North Carolina, U.S.
Cause of deathHeart attack
Achievements1956 Sportsman Division Champion
AwardsNamed one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)
National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame (1989)
International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1997)
Oceanside Rotary Club of Daytona Beach Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame (2004)
National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame (2007)[1]
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career
51 races run over 6 years
Best finish17th (1961)
First race1956 Buddy Shuman 250 (Hickory)
Last race1964 Race No. 29 (Concord)
Wins Top tens Poles
0 16 1


Ralph Earnhardt replica car

Earnhardt had German ancestry.[3] He was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina as the son of Effie Mae Furr (August 30, 1895 – September 1979) and John Henderson Earnhardt (Mar 23, 1879 – Nov 5, 1953).[4] John Henderson Earnhardt's first wife was Florence Phillips (Oct 7, 1877 – Nov 18, 1922).[5] He and Florence had four daughters — Mary, Eula, Margie, and Octa Vayne.[6]

He spent many years working in a cotton mill in North Carolina. One of the only ways out of this poor living was racing. Ralph started his racing career on dirt tracks where he was famous for keeping his car in top condition throughout each race.

Racing careerEdit

Earnhardt began racing in 1949, and in 1953 it became his full-time occupation.[2]

In 1956, he won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship, and was runner-up in 1955 and third in 1957.[2]

In 1967, he was the reigning South Carolina state champion, and track champion at Columbia Speedway and Greenville-Pickens Speedway.[2]

He won the pole and finished second in his first Grand National Series race in 1956 at Hickory Speedway.[7] In 1961, Earnhardt had his highest finish by finishing 17th in the Grand National point standings. 1961 also saw Earnhardt fill in as a relief driver for Cotton Owens in the Daytona 500, running more than 300 miles and finishing 5th.[2]

Earnhardt was the first car builder/driver to understand and use tire stagger.[8]


Earnhardt died from a heart attack on September 26, 1973 at the age of 45[9] while washing his face in his kitchen.[10]

In mediaEdit

In the film 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story, Ralph Earnhardt was portrayed by J. K. Simmons. The film portrayed Earnhardt's death as the urban legend dictated, where Dale (Barry Pepper) found him dead of a heart attack in the garage.


  1. ^ NDLMHOF Announces 2007 Class, written by Bill Holder on December 26, 2006, National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, Retrieved March 14, 2007
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg VA) August 25, 1967". Google News. August 25, 1967. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  3. ^ "Ancestry of Dale Earnhardt Jr". Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  4. ^ "Ancestry of Dale Earnhardt Jr". Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  5. ^ "Florence Earnhardt". Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  6. ^ "Genealogy". Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  7. ^ "1956 Buddy Shuman 250". November 11, 1956. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  8. ^ Biography at the Daytona Beach Stockcar Hall of Fame Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Ralph Earnhardt". Motorsports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on August 12, 2013. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  10. ^ Persinger, p. 8.

External linksEdit