Ralph was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina where he spent many years working in a cotton mill. He was the father of Dale Earnhardt, and the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt.
He saw racing as a way to improve the standard of living for him and his family and started out on the dirt tracks where he became famous for his abilty to keep a car in top condition throught a race earning the nickname 'Mr. Consistency'.
Preferred to race four to five times per week near his home rather than endure the hassle of traveling far from home, wife and children. He did, however, drive over 50 races in the Grand National (now Winston Cup) circuit for such renowned car builders as Cotton Owens and Lee Petty.
Though never a champion in NASCAR's Winston Cup Series division, Earnhardt was a driver of extraordinary talent. An acknowledged master of North Carolina short tracks, Earnhardt raced sparingly in NASCAR's elite division during his 23-year career. He won NASCAR's Sportsman Division championship in 1956 and in 1961 posted seven top-10 finishes in eight starts in the NASCAR Winston Cup (now Nextel) Series division, good for 17th in the point standings.
He was the first car builder/driver to understand and use tire stagger.
He died suddenly from a heart attack while working on a race car in his shop.