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 Columns & Editorials

February 27, 2001

Life Without The Intimidator

by Clinton Terry
I arrived at North Carolina Speedway about 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning and there was a cold hush in the air. It was evident the moment I set foot on the cold ground that the weekend would be a brand new experience altogether. I expected that the change would not be evident till race time Sunday, but as I walked toward souvenir alley It was then that the loss of a legend set in.

The trailers had writing all over them from hoards of fans wanting to send their last respects to the man that brought fear on the racetrack, but love as a human being. It brought a tear to my eye as I read the different things people had written and I instantly realized that I was not the only one hurting from Daytonas incident. As more and more people came to sign the trailer I started to notice that it wasnt just a memorial it was also a line. Just two hours before souvenir alley was supposed to open people started lining up like vultures to get their hands on the last remaining pieces of an American Legend. Granted some were true Earnhardt fans, but some just seem to be fighting for priceless souvenirs. Dont forget that price gouging had started as well. I found a Earnhardt leather jacket that last year sold for $300 marked up to $800 in just one week. Is this any way to remember a legend? Maybe Im just going over board, but I hope that the memories are what we best remember Dale Earnhardt by.

Qualifying time brought a little relief and put many peoples feet back on the ground. Back to business I heard one person say as they announced the order for qualifying. As they interviewed drivers before and after there runs you could tell that a lot of them were sadden, angered, or still amazed at the fact that they didnt have a black number 3 to deal with this week. A lot of drivers got standing ovations as they went out on the track to make their runs. Not to different from any other qualifying event that I had attended, at least not until Sterlin Marlins run.

This was the point where we would find out just how much of a race fan the majority of the crowd was. If you didnt hear over the week after Dales death many people were quick to pass the blame on to Sterlin for putting Dale into the wall. Death threats were the key issue and this just added to the pain that Sterlin was already feeling from being in the position to make incidental contact in the first place. It just showed how ignorant the common race fan could be. We saw many times how Dale could just be behind somebody and things would happen. That was no different in this case. For both drivers it was just racing and that is what Dale would have said if he had survived the accident.

Sterlin fired up his silver CoorsLight Dodge Intrepid R/T, and the crowd in support of the targeted driver stood in true Nascar fashion and issued a rousing applause to the falsely accused driver. It was remarkable to say the least as I expected to hear boos and bitter words tossed about, but not a bitter word could be heard and Sterlin made a quick run placing well in the field. He would also finish well and Im sure that helped with his healing process. The rest of the day was pretty ordinary. Many large crowds could be heard tossing stories of Earnhardt glory hear and there, but that was not unusual. Sunday would be when we would find out just how hard racing would be.

Sunday, cold and bitter with 100%chance of rain, in all honesty the best forecast for the days events. My friend that went to North Carolina argued with me the entire trip that this race shouldnt take place. He constantly said that God sent the rain to make us stop and think. I got very angry cause I wanted to race but now I agree with him. With the exception of normal conversation the crowed was very quiet as they entered the racetrack for the days events. The speedway handed out pennants with Dales car and signature on them for fans to have as a remembrance of Dale. I cheated and got two of them, but dont tell anybody.

The rain of course came and delayed the start of the race by about 2 hours, but Nascar got the track dried. They announced the starting line up and drivers went to their cars to a rousing applause as out of nowhere the sun began to break through. With this sign of life came Darrel Waltrip, one of racings good ole boys. As he spoke of Dale the Sun got brighter,and hotter, and the clouds parted as if this was what the day was meant to be. Some people in the stands near me were crying and some couldnt speak. Then we had a moment of silence and a prayer. The National Anthem was rendered effortlessly and then came the signal to start the engines.

The engines fired and the crowed came to life with a bit of hope as the cars rolled off the grid. They circled the track for what seemed like hours as they attempted to get some heat into the surface. When they gave the one to go signal I was listening to Bobby Labontes in car radio on my scanner. The pennants that they given out were being held up all around the racetrack. Bobby said to his crew I wish yall could see this from where Im sitting, its beautiful. When they dropped the green flag the clouds returned and as the field entered turn three Dale Jr. got punted into the wall. This was the sign that racing was not to commence today.

The showers came about 30 minutes later putting a stop to the days actions. As the track cleared out I remember hearing people say what if it hadnt happened this way. Did this mean God is a race fan, or did it mean we should just stop and remember instead of moving on with life? I think that its both. Dale was not just a racing hero he was a legend. Even someone that didnt know a thing about racing could recognize the name Dale Earnhardt and know what you were talking about. It was a fitting end to the day in the fact that we showed respect for our falling champion.

The moment I started my car to leave the racetrack the funniest thing happened. All at once the clouds opened up and the sun came right through my window. God truly wanted Sunday to be a time of remembrance for Dale and we know God gets what he wants.

A Joke that came out back when Davie Allison died goes a little bit like this.

Davie gets to heaven and he finds his car sitting on the grid before the race. He looks over and sees Alan Kulwickie and then up on this high pedestal is Dale Earnhardts car. He looks at Alan and says, I didnt know he was here too. Alan said Nope, thats Gods car.

Lord you took our hero home, but we know you had a reason. Thank you for your many blessings and for giving us your soon Jesus Christ so that one day we can all race together again with you in Heaven. We love

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