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 (of which he only got to see Kelley and Kerry before his death), and great grandfather of Jeffrey Earnhardt and Bobby Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt helped give Bobby Isaac his start in racing.
Earnhardt had German ancestry. He was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina as the son of Effie Mae Barbee (August 30, 1895 - September 1979) and John Henderson Earnhardt (Mar 23, 1879 - Nov 5, 1953). John Henderson Earnhardt's first wife was Florence Phillips (Oct 7, 1877 – Nov 18, 1922). He and Florence had four daughters — Mary, Eula, Margie, and Octa Vayne.
He spent many years working in a cotton mill in North Carolina, trying to support his family; his son Dale Earnhardt and his wife. One of the only ways out of this poor living was racing, an occupation he began to do full time in the mid 1950s. He kept trying to encourage his son, Dale Earnhardt, to stay in highschool and was angered when his son dropped out, kicking him out of the home to make his own way. Although it seems harsh that he kicked out his son, at the time it was standard to do so, and also Ralph likely knew deep down that Dale would likely become a success in racing out of necessity if he kicked him out.
Racing career Edit
Ralph Earnhardt began racing in 1949, and in 1953 it became his full-time occupation.
Ralph started his racing career on dirt tracks where he was famous for keeping his car in top condition throughout each race.
In 1956, he won the NASCAR Sportsman Championship, and was runner-up in 1955 and third in 1957. In 1967, he was the reigning South Carolina state champion, and track champion at Columbia Speedway and Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
He won the pole and finished second in his first Grand National (predecessor to the Sprint Cup) race in 1956 at Hickory Speedway. In 1961, Ralph had his highest finish by finishing 17th in the Grand National point standings. 1961 also saw Ralph fill in as a relief driver for Cotton Owens in the Daytona 500, running more than 300 miles and finishing 5th. Ralph Earnhardt was the first car builder/driver to understand and use tire stagger. He and his son raced a few races at the dirt tracks near their home in Kannapolis before Ralph met an untimely demise in 1973 at the age of 45. In one of the mentioned dirt track races Dale came in 3rd after his father gave him a shove near the end of the race.
Sadly, Ralph never got to see his son Dale make it big in auto racing. Ralph Earnhardt died from a heart attack on September 26, 1973 at the age of 45.
Dale never got over his father missing out on his success, and it's likely Dale still hasn't gotten over it, despite there being nothing Dale could have done.