auto racing · friday feature

Wheel Reviews: 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story

By David G. Firestone

3: The Dale Earnhardt Story is, according to ESPN Original Entertainment executive producer Will Steger: “an unauthorized docudrama…inspired by the true life of Dale Earnhardt.” It’s a movie that on the surface, is an emotional look at the life of one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time.

The movie depicts Dale’s life from early childhood, idolizing his father as both a driver and a man. Dale watches his father Ralph race, and grows to love the sport of racing. When Ralph dies, Dale changes. His career takes off, and the movie follows Dale on and off the track until his death at the 2001 Daytona 500.

The movie would be somewhat unremarkable, if not for the fact that there were a lot of inaccuracies, as well as omissions.

The omissions include:

*Dale’s 2 year stint with Bud Moore during the 1982 and 1983 seasons. Granted these season were quite unremarkable, but the fact these were never mentioned seems odd.

*Earnhardt’s Late Model starts for All Star Racing in what is now the Xfinity Series were also omitted.

*None of Dale’s crew chiefs are accurately depicted.

*Most perplexingly of all, there is no mention made of Dale’s rivalry, or business partnership with Jeff Gordon. The Earnhardt/Gordon rivalry was the dominant rivalry in NASCAR in the 1990’s, yet it’s not even glossed over.

There are also too many inaccuracies and continuity errors in the movie.

*In the opening scene at the 2001 Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon’s car is running a 2004 instead of a 2001 scheme. Bobby Labonte is racing a Chevy Monte Carlo, whereas he raced a Pontiac in 2001.

*In that same scene, on Dale’s car, DALE EARNHARDT is written in generic red script. Earnhardt always used a stylized version of his signature in white.

*During a dirt track race set in the 1950’s, Realtree is a sponsor of one of the cars, despite not being founded until the 1980’s.

*A billfold in a scene from the 1970’s clearly shows a modern day $20 bill, but for many TV shows and movies, this is not uncommon.

*After he signs with Rod Osterlund, Dale drives a Chevy Monte Carlo in the 1979 Daytona 500. In the real race, he drove a Buick.

*Earnhardt meeting future wife Theresa is inaccurately portrayed. She was only 16, and Dale knew he was Hal Houston.

*During a dream sequence after winning the 1980 Winston Cup Championship, John Anderson’s flip from the 1981 Duel races is shown.

*After the Earnhardt/Waltrip spin at Richmond, Earnhardt was quoted as saying “I didn’t mean to wreck him, I just wanted to rattle his cage a little.” The first time he actually said this was in 1999 after spinning Terry Labonte to win the Goody’s Headache Powder 500.

*In the scene where Dale Sr. is teaching Dale Jr. and Kerry to race, Kerry is wearing a more modern firesuit with inaccurate patches, and patch placement. The chest patches are wrong, the Simpson logo is a newer logo, and the SFI Certification is on the top of the sleeve, as opposed to the inside of the left sleeve near the wrist.

*In that same scene, there is a 2004 Dale Jr. decal on the back window of a pickup truck.

*At the 1990 Trans South 500 at Darlington, a Tony Stewart flag, as well as what appears to be a Matt Kenseth flag can be seen on a flag pole

*At that same race, Ernie Irvan is racing a #4 Kodak Gold Oldsmobile, with scheme that Kodak did not debut until several years later.

*At the 1998 Daytona 500 there are quite a few issues with how that race was depicted.

*During the final pit stop, the movie has Dale taking four tires. In the real race, Dale only took two tires.

*There is a Winston Cup logo badly covering a Nextel Cup logo.

*In the movie, Dale Jr. celebrates with his dad in Victory Lane. Dale Jr. had left to race in a different race.

*The pit crew is depicted as wearing polo shirts and slacks, where as in reality, fireproof coveralls were mandatory by that point.

*The above-mentioned polo shirts and slacks don’t change at all between 1990 and 1998.

*The back of Dale’s car in that race is plain, whereas the real car had a GOODWRENCH logo on the back.

*The movie ends at the 2001 Daytona 500.

*As Dale is shaking hands before the race begins, there is a large WINSTON CUP SERIES banner, with lettering that was never used in reality.

*For some reason, Earnhardt is wearing a helmet with Corvette decals…which he never wore in NASCAR.

*Rusty Wallace is driving a white unmarked Dodge, even though he drove a blue Ford at the time of the race.

*Jeff Gordon is racing the Rainbow Warrior scheme, even though in 2001, he had switched to his flame scheme.

*One claim that I have heard is that Dale wore a clear visor, instead of the tinted one he is depicted as wearing in the movie.

*In the reflection of the visor, an Impact Racing logo can be seen, despite not being founded until 2004.

*Bobby Labonte is racing his 2004 scheme, not his 2001 scheme.

This film is also noted for not getting the approval of any member of the Earnhardt family, including his widow. Richard Childress, who is depicted in the movie, took the producers to court for copyright infringement. I wasn’t able to find the outcome of this lawsuit.

All in all, while the movie itself is decently made, and is emotional. The historical inaccuracies and omissions keep it from being anything except a C- movie.

Next week, for the final Wheel Reviews, I will review a movie about Ferrari.

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