DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Thirteen years ago, Dale Earnhardt's first sports car race in a Chevrolet Corvette was the last race he completed.
Earnhardt, son Dale Earnhardt Jr., Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins finished fourth overall and second in the GT classification in the 2001 Rolex 24 At Daytona. A Corvette driven by Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, Chris Kneifel and Franck Freon took first place overall.
By the end of the weekend, Earnhardt had endeared himself to his teammates, thanks not only to his talent behind the wheel but also because of the indefatigable generosity of his personality. Two weeks later, Earnhardt's life was cut short in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500, and the motorsports world mourned.
A forceful confluence of circumstance in this year's 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway can't help but evoke memories of the Earnhardts and 2001. A new Corvette, the C7.R, is making its competitive debut in the Rolex 24, competing in the GT Le Mans class that grew out of the merger between GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series.