STRANGER THINGS HAVE NEVER HAPPENED
By Robin Smith Meiser
I just saw the most unbelievable thing I think I have ever seen and I have seen some incredible things in my life! Kevin Harvick's photofinish win over Jeff Gordon in the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway takes the cake though!
No one could ever have imagined a book or a movie that would compare to what the racing family has been through in the past month. The book would have won the Pulitizer Prize; the movie the Academy Award for Best Picture. But no one in his or her right mind would ever believe it actually happened.
First the story book finish of Michael Waltrip winning the Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. right behind while racing greatest driver and car owner perishes by hitting the wall just as the checkered flag falls on the race. As Waltrip celebrated his win in Victory Circle, the Earnhardt family mourned the loss of husband and father.
The following week was hard on all but especially the Earnhardt family as the world came to grips with the loss of the Intimidator. The family will never forget the generosity of the Earnhardt family and the sensitivity of Ted Turner and the FOX Network as they allowed millions of family members to attend Dale, Sr.'s memorial service via television. The sight of Teresa Earnhardt's grief ravaged face as she was led out of the memorial service after having the valor to walk up to the podium during the memorial service to thank those who came. The indignation of Dale, Jr. as he served as family spokesperson to defend fellow driver Sterling Marlin who received death threats after Earnhardt's death.
The race family then tried to put it behind us somewhat as we watched the Rockingham race but our hearts all stood still as Dale, Jr. hit the wall on the first lap in Turn Four and we all said a silent prayer that he would be alright and our prayers were answered, this time. The rain delay, similar to what occurred at Bristol after the death of 1992 Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki led many to think that the angels in heaven were crying for what race fans lost the week before. The joy we all felt when Steve Parks won the race the following day and the vision of Parks and Waltrip driving around the track in opposite directions in tribute to their mentor and car owner, giving the high five sign when their cars passed. The strange coincidence that Paul Andrews, Alan Kulwicki's crew chief is now Parks crew chief was especially poignant to this writer!
Jeff Gordon's win at the Las Vegas race was bittersweet as many remembered the early days of Gordon's Winston Cup career when he would follow Earnhardt, Sr. around racetrack after racetrack, learning the tricks of the trade from his mentor. The disappointment some Gordon fans felt when he failed to acknowledge the part Earnhardt played in Gordon becoming the driver he is today.
The courage of Teresa and Dale, Jr. as they made a plea on national television to stop the release of Dale, Sr.'s autopsy photos to the Orlando Sentinel. The outrage of the racing family as they sent over 10,000 emails to the Sentinel and 14,000 emails to Florida Governor Jeb Bush to stop the release of the photos. The decision by Governor Bush and the Florida legislature to file a bill to try to ensure that this never happens again wipes away the bad memory of chads and national elections and restores integrity to Florida government.
None of this compares though to the last few laps of today's Atlanta race as five cars raced for the win, including Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Dale, Jr. Unfortunately, Dale, Jr. cut a tire but still salvaged a 15th place finish while Harvick's white #29 Goodwrench car took the lead.
I never thought anything could be as exciting as the finish between Waltrip and Earnhardt, Jr. in this year's Daytona 500. The photofinish years ago between Davey Allison and Mark Martin at Bristol, or the year Davey Allison won the Winston unconscious after being wrecked at the finish line come close but there has never been a finish like today's. Harvick, unknown to most race fans until he burst onto the Busch Grand National Scene last year, taking the win by inches in his third Winston Cup start alone is the topper of all toppers. The fact that he did it in The Intimidator's car with his pit crew only adds to the incredible events of today. The sight of Chocolate Myers face, crew member for Earnhardt for his whole career, as far as I know, as he realized Harvick had won the race says it all. That mixture of joy and sorrow, tears and smiles, I am sure we all had that look on our faces.
It has indeed been a month of highs and lows for us all. The roller coaster ride is not over yet by a long shot. Repeatedly today you heard one thing from Harvick, D.W. and even Jeff Gordon saying "Somebody is watching over us." Well, whether it's God or Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (I choose to think it is a combination of the two along with all of our other racing angels) , it has given me renewed faith, as it has millions of our racing family, to sustain us through this harrowing but exciting race season.
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