Itragedy In Daytona:/Ibrearnhardt Dies In Crash

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died Sunday in a violent accident during the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt hit the wall nearly head-on and was unconscious when he was cut out of his car and rushed to nearby Halifax Medical Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m. (ET). He was 49.

"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver ever," said NASCAR Chairman Bill France in a written statement.

The speedway's emergency medical services director, Steve Bohannon, announced Earnhardt's death during a 7 p.m. (ET) press conference at the speedway, just a few hours after a car he owned - driven by Michael Waltrip - won the Daytona 500. Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished second in the event.

"I was on one of the ambulances that responded to the accident," Bohannon said. "When I arrived there were a number of paramedics tending to him. There was a paramedic in through the passenger window applying oxygen by a mask.

"Dr. Alfred Alson, who is a trauma surgeon, was in through the driver's window and was delivering CPR. There was another paramedic in the window maintaining the C-spine, holding the head."

It took the safety crew about 10 minutes to remove the roof of Earnhardt's car, and once removed, he was immediately transported to Halifax. Transport time was about two minutes.

"There was a full trauma team there to meet him," Bohannon said. "We all did everything we could for him... but he had what I feel were life-ending type injuries at the time of impact. Really nothing could be done for him."

Bohannon said a full trauma resuscitation team worked on Earnhardt for more than 20 minutes before he was placed on a ventilator and then pronounced dead. Bohannon says Earnhardt never showed any signs of life and speculated "head injuries, particularly at the base of the skull, ended his life."

The accident that ended Earnhardt's life started as he battled for position heading into the final turn of the race. Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin's car, his famous No. 3 shot up the track and straight into the wall, and then was hit again by the car of Ken Schrader.

"No matter where it happens, how it happens or even how prepared you think you might be for it, losing somebody close to you hurts," said Kyle Petty, whose son Adam was killed in a racing accident last season at New Hampshire International Speedway. "My heart just breaks for his wife Teresa and the family."

Earnhardt's death is the fourth in NASCAR's top three series - Winston Cup, Busch Series and Truck Series - in less than a year.

Drivers have had great concerns for their safety since the deaths of drivers Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin and Petty, and many are now in favor of using a head-and-neck restraint - called the HANS device.

"I really don't know if that (the HANS device) would have saved his life or not," said Bohannon. "I know a full-face helmet would not have made any difference whatsoever. He had no evidence of facial injuries."

"I don’t know what to say," said driver Jeremy Mayfield. "This is incredible, just incredible. I think everybody is just in shock right now.

"I didn’t see much of what happened up there (in the fourth turn). After the race was over, I heard things didn’t look very good but, man, Earnhardt. You figure he’ll bounce right back. Your first thought is, hey, he’ll probably come back next week at Rockingham and beat us all."

Earnhardt is survived by his wife Teresa, sons Dale Jr. and Kerry, and daughters Kelly and Taylor Nicole.

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