Top 20 Stories of 2019
Topic

Top 20 Stories of 2019

Top Stories of 2019, #6: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s plane crash

Motorsport.com's countdown of the biggest stories in racing in 2019 continues with another that did not take place on the race track – the horrific plane crash involving former NASCAR driver-turned-analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family.

Top Stories of 2019, #6: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s plane crash
Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash wreckage
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife Amy
Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash wreckage
 Dale Earnhardt Jr., JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Hellmann's
 Dale Earnhardt Jr., JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Hellmann's

While Earnhardt’s driving career has been relegated of late to one Xfinity Series race per season, he remains one of NASCAR’s most popular and iconic figures, particularly from his continued work in the second half of every season with NBC Sports.

In August, as NASCAR’s summer weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was getting underway with Truck series practices and a race on Thursday the 15th, word came of a plane owned by JR Motorsports that had crashed at a nearby airport in Elizabethton, Tenn.

Private plane usage remains high in NASCAR, with drivers, teams and team owners taking advantage of its benefits over the often unreliability of commercial airline travel.

Details were slow to emerge of the incident but it soon became clear it was very serious.

Read Also:

According to Carter County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s department, Earnhardt’s Cessna Citation 680 ran off the end of the 5,000-foot airport runway about 3:38 p.m. ET, traveled about 200 feet across a grass field then plowed into a fence which surrounds the airport property.

The torn fencing wrapped itself around the plane’s fuselage as it came to a stop just alongside Tennessee Highway 91. Jet fuel poured across the highway, down the nearby culvert and across the street into an adjoining stream, and eventually caught fire.

EMTs were on the scene “within minutes” and Earnhardt, his wife, Amy, their infant daughter, Isla, the two pilots and the family dog were already out of the plane when they arrived.

The scene itself looked straight out of a movie – the plane came to rest near a road, and its rear section completely burned out. The fencing that had wrapped around the plane had only missed covering the plane’s door by a foot or so.

“The plane was sliding down to the road, it was already in flames and smoke billowing,” witness Sissy Moody said. “As soon as it stopped, a dog came out and then I guess it was Dale with his baby and then his wife and then the two pilots were right behind them.

“Then Dale went on to the ground about 30 or 40 feet from the plane. This tunnel was in a blaze, the plane was in a blaze. I was already running across the ground saying, ‘There are people in there!’ but I was amazed they had already came out.”

Earnhardt was transported to Johnson City (Tenn.) Medical Center, where he was treated and released for what were described as “minor injuries.” He arrived at the track hours later but NBC Sports execs gave the driver the weekend off to spend with his family after the accident.

The extent of Earnhardt’s physical injuries were bruising and swelling to his lower back but he admitted in the weeks afterward the accident was a “very tough experience to go through.”

“I try not to think about it too much. Things happen for a reason. You just try to learn from it and move on,” he said. “I love my daughter so much and enjoy being around her and look forward to watching her grow up and experience a lot of things with her going forward.

“That just made me realize that much more. I’m just thankful and ready to live our lives.”

Earnhardt felt good enough to stick with his lone Xfinity Series start at Darlington on Aug. 31. He started 14th and finished fifth in his first appearance at a track since the accident.

“You just never know how good you are till you come back and try,” said Earnhardt, 45. “This is elite, all these guys in this field do this every single week and they’re very, very talented. So, to think you can take a whole year off and come back and be good is overthinking it. I wasn’t too sure, but we did alright.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation and Safety Board determined that after failing to “go-around” following two bounces along the Elizabethton Municipal Airport runway, Earnhardt’s jet touched down a third time with just 1,000 feet of pavement remaining.

The right main landing gear collapsed, and the outboard section of the right wing contacted the runway shortly after the third touchdown.

The final report from the NTSB has yet to be released.

Earnhardt and his family have been through several scary and tragic incidents over the years, most related to on-track action.

In 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr. – who was competing with his son for the win in the season-opening Daytona 500 – died in a last-lap crash.

In 2004, Earnhardt Jr. was practicing for the American Le Mans Series race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway when a crash engulfed his Corvette in flames. He suffered second-degree burns but made a full recovery.

Click here to see the list of Top 20 stories so far.

shares
comments
Top Stories of 2019, #9: NASCAR bets the farm on Next Gen future

Previous article

Top Stories of 2019, #9: NASCAR bets the farm on Next Gen future

Next article

Team Penske announces crew chief shakeup for Cup teams

Team Penske announces crew chief shakeup for Cup teams
Load comments
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020