Case in Point: Dale Earnhardt & Privacy

EarnhardT pic

(Photo courtesy from

Since being about 6 years old I have been a fan of NASCAR. Most people believe it is boring and how hard can it be taking a left turn the whole race for 300-500 laps. After going to my first race in Loudon, New Hampshire I was hooked. That race was in 1999 or 2000 and I have been a fan since. The saddest moment in NASCAR history had to be in February 2001 at the Daytona 500 on the final lap with Michael Waltrip leading Dale Earnhardt Jr. around turn 4 and there car owner Dale Earnhardt trying to hold the cars behind him so his son and car drivers could race to the finish. Earnhardt lost control of his car and slammed into the wall in turn 4 collecting Ken Schrader. Earnhardt hit the wall head on and both his car and Schrader’s car slid down the banking into the turn 4-infield grass. Earnhardt was killed on impact and it was a sad time for the NASCAR community.

            A week after his death a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel filed a request to access the autopsy photos of Dale Earnhardt. At the time, Florida law allowed public access to autopsy files (Plaisance, 187). NASCAR and Earnhardt’s widow Teresa Earnhardt denied the request to give the Orlando Sentinel the access to the files. The editor of the Sentinel Tim Franklin argued that the story represented a public issue about the safety in NASCAR and wanted to learn more about how Dale Earnhardt had died (Plaisance, 187). A judge agreed with Teresa Earnhardt saying the photos had no “bona fide newsworthiness.” (Plaisance, 187). Two months later, Florida governor Jed Bush signed a law that prohibited public access to autopsy photos unless a judge approved (Plaisance, 187).

            The issue that is brought up in this Case in Point is privacy. The Orlando Sentinel believed the public should know how Dale Earnhardt had died and the safety measures that should be implemented so another death doesn’t occur on the racetrack. NASCAR and Teresa Earnhardt believe that there was no need to showing the footage because safety measures were implemented but Earnhardt refused to wear the HANS device, which supports your neck and head into the seat. This restricts the whiplash of you head when involved in a crash. In todays NASCAR it is a rule that you must wear this device.


(Photo courtesy from

My thoughts on the issue are that NASCAR and Teresa Earnhardt have the right to refuse the release of the images. I know the Orlando Sentinel wanted to get a great story by getting the photos and bashing NASCAR for safety but it was in bad taste after the sports biggest star died. Since Dale Earnhardt’s crash no one has died in any of the NASCAR’s three major divisions during a race. The safety implications with the Car of Tomorrow to the Next Gen car, safety barriers at all speedways and safety equipment inside the car will continue to improve and protect the drivers and the fans.

Crash Replay, link above. Start at 3:30.


Plaisance, P, L. (2014). Media Ethics. Sage. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s