The 1990s saw the arrival of new stars, including Jeff Gordon, but the decade belonged to one man: Dale Earnhardt. He'd been one of the upstarts in the '80s, challenging David Pearson and Richard Petty, but in the '90s Earnhardt was a throwback. With his take-no-prisoners driving style, the Intimidator won four titles, 35 races and legions of fans, many of whom looked at him and saw themselves. "I think everybody is angry about having to drive in urban areas," said Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler. "They hate the traffic with a passion. Earnhardt drives through traffic too, and he won't put up with anything. So Earnhardt is playing out their fantasies."
Led by Big E, racing had never been more popular. Television ratings were through the roof, and attendance was routinely measured in the hundreds of thousands. NASCAR expanded its schedule to include a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, signed a multiyear, multibillion-dollar partnership with Fox, NBC and Turner Sports and handed out more prize money than ever before. It was the realization of a dream for NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who passed away in 1992 at age 82. The racing circuit he had begun at Daytona Beach in 1947 had grown into one of America's biggest sports franchises.