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Original Issue

Dale Bonding

A TV movie explores the relationship that fueled a NASCAR legend's desire

The winner ain't the guy with the fastest car," NASCAR driver Ralph Earnhardt told his son Dale, not long before Ralph died of a heart attack at age 45 while working on a carburetor. "He's just the one who refuses to lose." And until the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, when his black number 3 Chevy Monte Carlo slammed into a wall, killing him instantly at age 49, Dale Earnhardt was tenacious, competitive and maddening to his fellow drivers because of his willingness to drive rough. The Intimidator left school in the ninth grade and had two busted marriages by the time he was 25, but on the track he found success, winning seven NASCAR championships. His journey is chronicled in 3 (ESPN, Dec. 11, 9 p.m.). Although the script offers no surprises, Barry Pepper, who played Roger Maris in 61*, does a passable Earnhardt, and the film is affecting without being mawkish. Running through 3 is the relationship between Ralph and Dale, whose career was fueled by the desire for his father's approval. "I spent half my time trying to figure out what he was thinking," Pepper tells Chad McCumbie, a young NASCAR driver who plays Dale Jr., and "the rest of the time too scared to ask."

--Nancy Ramsey




Pepper mastered the Intimidator's twang by playing Earnhardt interviews on an iPod.