starters, I’m not really qualified to write anything about the
death of Dale Earnhardt. I’ve been involved with the NASCAR community
for little over a year, and given that, what do I really I know?
Everyday, however, I learn something new about NASCAR. So instead
of giving any type of opinion on what happened, I’m simply going
to relay my brief exposure to “The Intimidator.” He’s a figure
like I’ve never seen, and while I knew he was an icon of the sport,
I had no idea just how big of an icon he really was.
personal experiences stand out in my mind with regards to Dale
Earnhardt. Both occurred last season in my first tour of duty
with the NASCAR community.
back to North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham last February. It
was the beginning of the second season within a season. You see,
there’s Daytona which seems to last for months, and then everything
else thereafter. First round qualifying was underway and cars
were hitting the track one after the other for their one hot lap
to post a time. The stands were surprisingly full for a Friday
afternoon, especially I thought for a track that’s 60 miles off
the main highway from Charlotte. Robby was one of the last cars
to qualify so we were patiently waiting in line on pit lane watching
the starting race field assemble itself.
through qualifying, and out of nowhere, the crowd erupted. Everyone
stood up and let out a cheer. It was the kind of cheer you’d hear
for a home run at Fenway Park or a touchdown run in the Super
Bowl. In racing circles, it was a cheer you’d hear when something
spectacular happens on the track.
learned right then standing next to Robby’s car that something
spectacular included Dale Earnhardt leaving pit lane for a qualifying
the big deal?” I thought.
cheered him all the way around for his warm up lap and stood on
pins and needles until he crossed the stripe, finishing his timed
lap. And in this instance, his time put the #3 car on the top
of the charts leaving everyone in the grandstands in a fit of
a broken record, this fan reaction continued at each and every
track I visited for the next ten months. Honestly, I can’t think
of any one athlete that has more of a following than Dale Earnhardt
amongst his sporting community. Not Sammy Sosa. Not Tiger Woods.
And really, not even Michael Jordan. It’s pretty remarkable how
widespread Earnhardt’s legion of fan support really is, and I
would venture to say that few who follow NASCAR would argue with
second experience that sticks with me came at the Bristol night
race. Robby had qualified 12th. Everyone on our team felt good
about his chance to make some noise in the race. It was getting
close to race time and pre-race festivities were underway. Drivers
hadn’t gotten into their parade-lap trucks yet, so Robby and I
were were standing talking with Mike Arning, Tony Stewart’s PR
Rep, just killing time, waiting for everything to officially begin.
I noticed Dale Earnhardt in the distance walking to his truck
when he made an abrupt turn towards us.
approached Robby and put his arm around him.
“Robby, you’re doing a great job this weekend,” Dale said. “If
I can give you any advice about this place, it’s just to stay
consistent. Consistent, consistent, consistent. You do that and
you’ll be fine.”
and I just kind of stood there, a little star-struck.
has this presence about him. For one, he’s pretty damn tall. And
he’s got those Gargoyles going. Whoever nicknamed him “The Intimidator”
was right on the money. Seriously, when’s he’s walking up to you
– the first thing you think of is that you hope you haven’t made
him mad about something! But hearing him talk to Robby, and from
what I’ve heard from people that work with him, that’s not at
all Dale Earnhardt.
Dale told Robby he’d be fine in the race, he did something that
gained my utmost respect. He turned with Robby to the crowd and
kind of gazed at the stands. And if you’ve ever been to Bristol,
especially for the night race, you’d know how unreal it is. 150,000
fans neatly tucked into a bowl that’s 20-plus stories high. Every
fan being as rabid about NASCAR racing as the fan sitting next
is what it’s all about,” Dale said. “Right here. I love this place
– look at all these fans, it always amazes me.”
agreed, then Dale patted him on the shoulder, wished him a good
race and headed off for his truck.
looked at me and said, “Well, there’s our 20 seconds of fame.”
I thought to myself.
guess what got me in that instance was the fact that Dale didn’t
need to come over and say anything to Robby. But he did and he
made a special trip to do it. It was genuine and it was a vote
of confidence for Robby.
bit about the fans I thought was tremendous. There were no media
around with microphones, and no sponsors standing next to him.
And for that matter, Mike and I may as well have been two ghosts.
It was Dale in an honest moment, sharing his appreciation for
an empire that was built by NASCAR’s fans.
sad thing is that now he’s gone.
haven’t been doing the NASCAR thing very long, but he’s been a
constant every time I’ve visited an event. A presence bigger than
any of the others. He’ll be missed and probably never replaced,
making next weekend at Rockingham an eerie event. It’s
hard right now trying to imagine the black #3 Chevy not rolling
out for qualifying like it did last year. But while I won’t see
the black #3, I do imagine the cheers will still be there – as
tremendous as ever for another Earnhardt, he of the red #8.
everyone at Team Gordon, we express our sympathies to the Earnhardt