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July 2, 2001

Sadness and Joy Intertwine

This weekend and the Pepsi 400 will definitely intertwine sadness and joy. For those of us who live here in Central Florida it is a time when those car haulers make their parade into Daytona International holding all our dreams for our favorite driver to win. Qualifying will be on Thursday night to more than seventy five thousand fans but there will not be one fan that does not have the #3 in their heart.

Even if you were not a Dale Earnhardt fan, this is the track that saw him race his last race. This is the track that gave thousands the saddest day in their lives and made his family without their head. This is where fans decided that racing without Dale was not racing anymore to them. And yet, this is the track that Dale loved most and waited for so many years to get his first win.

On the local Sunday sports special tonight, Dale Jr. talked about coming back to the track that made him fatherless. It cannot be an easy time for him knowing that this was the last place he saw his father alive. And yet, he carries on hoping that in time, the pain will lessen. That he will make his father proud of him as if he was not when he was here.

Daytona at night is magical. The Pepsi 400 race at night is magical. Those lights shining down on the brightly, colored cars going by so fast that sometimes it is hard to tell which car is which. The #3 car was here last year, qualifying to the cheers and boos of the crowd. Earnhardt had a way with him, one that either made you like him or not. And yet, the man was one of the kindest around.

It will be a sad thing when the haulers make their parade into Daytona International. As I watched them leave last year in the wee hours of the morn, Dale and Dale Jr.'s left together - father and son. And yet this year, it will be the son only that will parade in and slip away at night.

No matter whether there is a black #3 or not in that line-up, in all the minds at that great race, Dale will be there. You will see him flying high in the camp area, on the shirts of the fans and on the heads of his greatest fans. Joy will be felt for the man who raced his last race just this year.

For Dale Jr., this will not be easy just as it cannot be easy for Kyle Petty to race in New Hampshire. I am sure he will feel the excitement of yet another race but sadness that this is where he said his goodbyes and never knew that is what they were. Racing can change a life in one second, this time it changed the lives of many.

No matter how many cars qualify this Thursday night, there will be an extra one, one that is in the heart of many. And in that car with Earnhardt at the wheel, will be Adam, Kenny, Tony, Davey, Neil and so many more. And we will feel joy from our sadness because they are all there, taking that lap, doing their best.

Sadness and joy can intertwine, memories can last a life time, and the love for your father can show thru. Yes, the haulers are coming and on Saturday night, magic will once again surround the Daytona International Speedway and we will feel joy in our hearts.

Jane Smith

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