Daytona 500: ESPN Airing Dale Earnhardt Crash Documentary Prior to Sunday's Race

The Daytona 500 takes place on Sunday, marking the 20-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death in the season-opening race. ESPN is starting race day with a look back at the tragic collision from 2001. The company will air a special documentary, Intimidator: The Lasting Legacy of Dale Earnhardt.

ESPN released the first trailer for the documentary on Wednesday and revealed that it would air at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday. The clip showed archive footage of Earnhardt during his career, including moments when he faced questions about the danger of racing. "Racing. I enjoy it. If I go doing it, I'm happy," Earnhardt said in the trailer. Several other drivers also appeared in the teaser, making comments about the crash and major changes in auto racing.

The E:60-produced special will examine the iconic driver's crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, as well as how it impacted the sport. He wrecked while helping Michael Waltrip win his first-ever 500. Sterling Marlin bumped Earnhardt's car, sending it spinning into the wall and killing the legendary driver. Following the tragic incident, NASCAR made major changes to improve the safety of the stock cars. No other drivers have died in collisions since 2001.

According to a press release from ESPN, the documentary comes courtesy of senior writer Ryan McGee, who has covered the sport for 25 years. McGee interviewed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the film, as well as Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, who survived a major crash during the 2020 Daytona 500. Other interviewed figures are former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty, Dr. Steve Bohannon, one of the first people to reach Earnhardt's wrecked car, NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, NASCAR President Steve Phelps, NASCAR Executive Vice President Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Senior Director of Safety Engineering John Patalak, and former ESPN reporter Mike Massaro.

"20 years ago, I don't think I would be here," Newman said about his crash. "There's no doubt." The Roush Fenway Racing driver spent less than two days in the hospital after his own crash and only suffered minor injuries. He later attributed this outcome to the safety measures implemented by racing's governing body. Johnson expressed a similar sentiment and said during the trailer that Earnhardt's untimely death changed the safety in motorsports and NASCAR.


Intimidator: The Lasting Legacy of Dale Earnhardt will air on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET prior to the season-opening Daytona 500. Excerpts from the program will also air on SportsCenter during the week and on Sunday morning. The special will continue to remain available for viewers after the initial premiere, re-airing multiple times on ESPN networks and becoming available for on-demand viewing on the ESPN App.