Thursday, February 18, 2021

And Still We Remember By: Candice Smith


Time stood still.

No one moved or breathed.
No one believed that The Intimidator was mortal.
Certainly he’d walk away from what looked initially like an innocuous hit into the wall.
This was Daytona, the track that Earnhardt won consistently at and even had captured a 500 victory three years previously.
A collective gasp was heard.
Hearts sunk.
Mourning began.
A line was drawn – events that happened before February 18, 2001 and after.
The day Dale Earnhardt died.
Accidents happen, but he’d always walked away able to race the next time.
Lives forever changed that fateful day.
Healing began.
Dale Earnhardt will never be forgotten.
His indelible mark is as palpable today as it was then.
Perhaps more.
Then Earnhardt had as many detractors as fans. Fans would boo, jeer, and argue what a terrible competitor he was. A cheat, some would say, or a thug on the race track. Fans of Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, and many other drivers couldn’t stand Earnhardt.
But when he was gone the enormity of Earnhardt’s death reverberated across NASCAR Nation and beyond.
Flags still fly proudly with the “No. 3” and Dale Earnhardt signature. His fans – ardent, loyal, passionate – still remember.
He was so much more than a NASCAR star.
Earnhardt was a sports icon, a business entrepreneur, a  farmer, a sponsor’s dream, a winning driver, a champion who tied King Richard Petty’s seven championships.
Earnhardt was a jokester, a fierce competitor, and a loyal friend.
He was a husband, business partner, hunter, and a father.
His legacy has made him immortal.
The name Earnhardt will forever be associated with racing – NASCAR –  and a host of positive things in the world as his family’s reach is constantly expanding.
Twenty years later and the landscape has changed immensely.
The one thing that has not changed is the allegiance shown by Earnhardt fans. There are endless stories of how Earnhardt touched their lives.
Others have entire rooms filled with Earnhardt memorabilia.
What every one of those fans has in common is their love, admiration, and adulation of Dale Earnhardt.
Twenty years on, as much that has changed, the Earnhardt fans stay the same.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Origins of Love & Loyalty: Dale Earnhardt 20 Years Later

Dale Earnhardt has been gone twenty years, but his life and legacy live on as do his diehard fans.

For many, losing Earnhardt was the end of NASCAR. For others, it was a natural transition from father to son. For so many he is still an icon, a legend, a god.

But how did this second-generation wheelman garner such passionate fandom? How did a guy with mediocre luck at the start of his career, catapult himself to stardom?

With 7 championships that tied him with the King of NASCAR, Richard Petty, and 76 race wins that put him 8th on the all-time wins list, Earnhardt was an unstoppable winning machine.

Even when a trophy from the Daytona 500, the Great American Race, eluded him for two decades, Earnhardt finally made it to Victory Lane in 1998. Every team member of every NASCAR Cup team lined up to high five and congratulate Earnhardt on such an auspicious win.

Earnhardt teased, played practical jokes, worked hard away from the track, and worked even harder on it. He was a damn great friend, mentor, husband, and father.

He was a Hero.

So how did his self-proclaimed Super Fans discover him and maintain their loyalty to his memory?

Here’s a random sampling of stories from fans I've met throughout the years:

Ira Coleman Jr.:

“He was having an autograph session at West Chevrolet Alcoa Tennessee and everybody was lined out the door waiting on him to show up. When him and Richard showed up Richard talked first and said folks I apologize for being late, Dale had scared us to death driving us over from the airport, he has drove like he was racing @ Bristol, I saw speeds over 100 a few times and he passed traffic by going up on the curb and every which way. lol The Folks were lined up for a hundred yards outside and after a hour his manager can't come in and tell on him that it was time to go, that they had to kiss to pine and fly on to Bristol Motor Speedway. Dale said I ain't leaving till I see everyone and he probably didn't because a man I work with had his autograph signed around 11 o'clock at night.”


Cathy Ann Brock Manchester remembers, “the time he came to Orlando, Fla, at K92, and I got his autograph! I never will forget that day when I seen him!”


Mindy Reno said, “My favorite memory is when I got to meet Dale Sr on June 22, 2000!”


David Foytlin:

“It was at an open house at RCR '89. I had an Earnhardt cap signed by the crew. I saw Richard sitting off to the side. Took him the hat for his signature. Told him that I had a spot on it for Dale to sign. He said wait a minute, took the hat and came back a few minutes later with Dale’s signature. I cherish that cap so much.”


Joey Cassady:

“When Dale came to Bowling Green, KY for an autograph session. It was cold and there was a pregnant woman that could not afford a ticket to get in and was waiting outside in the very cold weather. Dale saw her and asked her why she was waiting outside and she said she did not have a enough money for a ticket and it was her wedding anniversary and she wanted an autograph for her husband. Dale said let’s take a ride to the airport and he gave her his jacket off his back and some other stuff and ask if she had a name for the baby yet and she said no and he said Dale is a good name. He was a warrior on the track and a classy guy off the track.”


Brian Scott Gregory:

“The ultimate was when I was at the MI track in August of '98 and got to meet him, shake his hand and sat down with him and had a drink. Now that as awesome.  He didn’t treat me any different then he would have anyone else, and I didn’t treat him different. We sat and had a few drinks and talked about the weather and fishing and hunting. Not one word was mentioned about racing other then he did say about Jr. (I just don’t know what I'm gonna do with that boy, he just won’t listen to anyone). Gotta love it!”


Michael McHone:

“I also met Dale and Richard. They came to a grand opening for a Chevy dealer in Alaska. I have both their autographs on my copy of the 1994 Winston cup yearbook, the year of his last championship. What great people they were.  NASCAR took a big loss when Dale passed away.”


John Flock:

“He made an appearance at Fulton Speedway on one Watkins Glen weekend. After more than an hour of signing autographs, I had a private meeting with him in the office. All went well, talking of his dad's exploits in the 50's. When that first race hit the track, he stood up and said, ‘I gotta go. Can't stand to watch races when I'm not in a car.’”


Mark L. Bardin:

“Years ago, after a race in NH a friend of mine stopped at a restaurant. The place was packed. They sat my friend and his wife at a table for 6. They ordered there meals and as they we’re waiting in walked Dale Sr, Jr, Dale’s wife and (not sure)Jeffery. There was no place for them to eat so my friend noticed them and walked over and offered to have them sit with them. Dale accepted and was very kind, pleasant. Dry down to earth for such a famous man and family. My friend has since passed and lived in Pawlet, VT. I’m from Granville, NY right over the border from Pawlet, VT. Hearing the story and the the passing of Dale which I saw on TV was devastating . My father died in my arms at a basketball game up in the stands at 51 yearrs old . We worked together every day. Went to Dirt track racing together. We were very close. So, I relate to JR when his dad passed. I always wanted to meet them.  Jr. and I have red hair.”


Daniel Pascale:


“I watched him in 1979. He was rookie of the year. I couldn't stop watching him. My mom knew where I was every Sunday. He was my hero.”


Mary Elizabeth Gibson Peace


“Love Dale for The Kindness He Showed To Others & Never Wanted Any Recognition For It... He Put on This Hard Core But Really Had A Heart Of Gold....”


Dennis Baker


“Dale Earnhardt was one hell of a driver. I started liking him in the 80’s. I was and am a huge Chevy guy. The day he passed Bill Elliot in the grass he was my guy from then on. I’ve watched him go between two cars in turn one at Atlanta to pass them both. Come from 18 to win in 5 laps at ‘dega . I saw him win his last race at ‘dega and run his last at Daytona. I even named a dog I had after him.”


Greeta Burbage


“I loved the man he was and always will be the best ever, if I had to work on a weekend I would record the race and every break I’d be in my car listening to it on the radio!! He was the MAN!!”


Brian Blevins


“I became a fan based on his sheer determination and will to win… his driving ability was unmatched…”


Gerry Hamelton


“I remember one time after a race that he won on the last lap. Someone asked Dale why he had taken the leader out.

His answer was, ‘I wanted to win the race.’”


Lorie White


“I love watching Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. racing together. But after Dale Sr. passed away Dale Jr. became my favorite driver.”


Donna Lama Larson


“He was my favorite driver, I met him a few times, nice guy. Was at the race when he was killed, broke my heart. Cried For days. NASCAR died when we lost him.”


Keith Cox


“Dale was a real deal... raced you hard whether for the win or just to get back/put you a lap back!!!!”


Zack Ireland


“I was at my friend’s daughter’s birthday party. They had the race on TV. I had no idea who Earnhardt was. They asked what car I liked, it was the black number 3. It’s the coolest car on the track. The rest is history. Forever a fan, followed him ever since.”


Joyce Domini


“I became a fan when he was rookie of the year, when I was in Daytona watching the race when he drove the yellow and green Chevy. He was bumper to bumper on everybody in his way. I could not take my eyes off him. That was the first time we went to all races after that in states next to us. Alabama, Atlanta, Daytona, Darlington. Two a year at each place, then I got to meet him in Daytona, he was staying in the same hotel I was in.  I was so excited. I saw the mark key that said welcome Dale Earnhardt. I first thought it was just to Daytona, but it was to the hotel. Someone said he was at the beach with his family. I sat by the pool until he came up. I had my picture taken with him. My husband started talking to him, because had won lots of trophies in drag racing and could talk on his level. He visited with us a while, he was the nicest man. I also meet Richard Childress, he was so nice also.”


Ray E. Shelton


“I started watching Dale after reading an article about he and the death of his father. He drew my attention and his struggle to race in the NASCAR series was something that I felt drawn to. He was a no mess with driver that put his all into his racing. From his first full time season (‘79 ) to the beginning of an amazing career. Many hated him including drivers, but deep down it was like I was him. He worked hard away from the racetrack. When he had a bad race, I felt awful and grumpy then had a bad week myself. He was someone I looked up to and I couldn’t wait for the next race. The more I found out about him the more I followed him. The day we lost him my heart broke and I never hid the fact that I cried like was my best friend.”


There are as many stories as there are fans. There are as many “3” Flags that fly at races as any other number. New generations learn from others about “The Man In Black” and “The Intimidator”.


Dale Earnhardt lives on forever and continues to leave an indelible mark on his fans that will never go away.