3: The Dale Earnhardt Story is a 2004 television movie produced by ESPN documenting the life of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, his poor upbringing in Kannapolis, North Carolina, his rise to dominance in NASCAR, his relationship with his son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and his death in the 2001 Daytona 500. It was first broadcast on December 11, 2004, and was subsequently released on DVD (although initial quantities quickly sold out). Barry Pepper stars as Dale Earnhardt.
The script of this film was not approved by Teresa Earnhardt and the Earnhardt family. The film, although capturing the essence of Dale Earnhardt, is inaccurate in many of the events seen in the film. Richard Childress, the former car owner and team owner of Dale Earnhardt sued ESPN for copyright infringement with the film's use of the "3" logo.
The relationship between Darrell Waltrip and Earnhardt in the film is inaccurate, the two were actually good friends, and Waltrip noted that on his Web site during the runup to the movie. Waltrip even drove for Earnhardt's race team in 1998.
There were many inaccuracies with the tracks in the movie. In the scene in which Dale drives down the pit road at Daytona International Speedway, the outside wall of the pit road at North Carolina Speedway is visible. Daytona has no pit wall.
Many race scenes where shot at North Carolina Speedway, after the track had lost its races and was used mostly as a test track and driving school.
The cars shown in the movie were historically inaccurate. In the moments before the 2001 Daytona 500, the cars of Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Jack Smith, Bill Elliott, and Rick Mast were shown as cars from a different year, with Gordon's easily visible, as the 2001 season was the year the "Rainbow Warrior" livery was replaced with the "Fire and Flames" livery. Also notable was a wrong-year scene featuring Morgan-McClure Motorsports, where a late 1990's Kodak Max film livery was used instead of the Kodak Gold film livery. (The design was based on a box of Kodak film.)
In the Charlotte, North Carolina scene, there is a Tony Stewart flag, but Stewart did not enter the premier series until 1999.
Neil Bonnett did give a gun to Dale Earnhardt as a gift and their friendship is accurate in the movie.
Sunoco Gasoline is shown on the fuel tankers in the movie, but Union 76 fuel was used in the era. (Sunoco did not sign with NASCAR until the start of the 2004 season. It should be noted many short tracks use CAM2 (now Sunoco) Racing Gasoline even in the 1970's, however.)