Dale Earnhardt Sr. is one of the most beloved men in all of sports. He's one of NASCAR's true legends and remains one of the most collected people on the racing side of the hobby. Collectors have lots of Dale Earnhardt cards to choose from, ranging from the very cheap up to some that cost several hundreds of dollars.
Earnhardt won a record-tying seven Winston Cup Championships before a tragic accident claimed his life in 2001. He won a total of 76 races. Earnhardt finished in the top ten of 428 of his 676 career NASCAR races. Not surprisingly, he was an inaugural inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. Earnhardt is also a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
The first Dale Earnhardt cards came out in the early 1980s. These were promotional releases that didn't see wide distribution. As NASCAR started licensing out full sets in the latter part of the decade, Earnhardt quickly became a key part. Collectors can trace the evolution of racing cards through Earnhardt. In the late 1990s, several bigger manufacturers stepped into the previously niche market. Although this led to an extremely crowded marketplace that didn't last long, many of these sets produced some extremely striking cards.
Below is a list featuring some of the best Dale Earnhardt cards ever produced, spanning the scope of his career. New Dale Earnhardt cards continue to appear in new products, including some extremely rare memorabilia cards.
Perhaps you have also heard of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the accomplished driver and son of the elder Dale Earnhardt.
10 Amazing Dale Earnhardt Cards
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This promo card has the notoriety of being the first Dale Earnhardt card. Given out as a promotional item and in giveaways, it's a modern oddball card with a lot of importance behind it. The front features Earnhardt celebrating victory at a Daytona qualifier. The back looks like a traditional UNO game card.
1988 marked the debut for MAXX, who helped elevate racing cards into more of a mainstream position. While the set has several Dale Earnhardt cards, most feature his car. However, this particular card shows the legendary racer alongside his team. Earnhardt may not be named on the front, but this is clearly a Dale Earnhardt card.
Technically, this card was never released on the open market. MAXX had the card printed and ready to go but couldn't come to an agreement with Dale Earnhardt. Still, it managed to reach the open market and remains extremely popular with collectors. MAXX did later release some copies via redemption in 1994. These have a gold sticker attached to the front that acts like a serial number. In 1997, Upper Deck released 100 autographed buybacks, all of which are numbered on the back.
Collectors should beware for fakes that have Earnhardt's hometown of Kannapolis misspelled (it's spelled "Kannapolils"). Here's a good resource that documents the card's history and different versions.
The 1989 MAXX Dale Earnhardt card is widely regarded as his rookie card. It uses the same image as the 1988 card noted above, but with a bright orange and yellow border, a red and white checker pattern at the bottom, and a green nameplate. The design looks like it was done by the same people who did the Saved by the Bell opening credits (which also debuted in 1989).
Not only is this the first Dale Earnhardt autograph card, but it also pairs him with another member of racing royalty, Richard Petty. For those looking for a Dale Earnhardt autograph, this card has extra significance as the first option and it's dual-signed.
1996 Press Pass Burning Rubber is one of the hobby's most ground-breaking inserts of all-time. All game-used memorabilia and screen-worn costume cards can be traced back to here. Incorporating pieces of race-used tires into the cards, they are the hobby's first cards to have used memorabilia. Cards fall 1:480 packs and are numbered to 500. The 1996 Press Pass Burning Rubber Dale Earnhardt uses a picture of his car on the front.
This is actually a two-card set. It's the NASCAR equivalent to a game-used jersey card. Unlike the Burning Rubber memorabilia cards, this card pictures Earnhardt and not just his car. Both come in four versions based on their foil color: Silver (1:384 WalMart packs), Gold (1:512 packs), Blue (1:2,048 packs) and Green (1:6,144 packs).
A preview of the high-end shift coming to the Hobby, this commemorative Dale Earnhardt card has seven small diamond pieces embedded directly into it. It honors Earnhardt's record-tying seventh Winston Cup Championship. Inserted 1:6,025 packs, it is hand-numbered out of 94 on the back and very difficult to track down.
With the late '90s came a surge in low-numbered parallels. For Dale Earnhardt collectors, one of the top targets for many is 1997 Pinnacle Totally Certified Gold. Numbered to 49, the wild etched foil design seems appropriate for racing. Another trend at the time was protective peeling on high-end sets. Whether the peel is intact or not shouldn't really matter. This card is so tough to find that the overall condition is what should be considered most.
1999 Press Pass Signings cards have emerged as one of the most popular NASCAR autograph sets of all-time. They have a clean design and a strong checklist covering active and retired racers. The Dale Earnhardt autograph card comes numbered to 400 copies. There's also a gold ink version numbered to 100, which commands a high premium. Overall, the 1999 Press Pass Signings cards fall 1:48 packs.