NASCAR Ranting and Raving founder and editing manager Bob (4ever3) has written several touching memorials for the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. leading up to the 53rd Annual Daytona 500. Earnhardt passed away ten years ago following the 2001 Great American Race and left a irreplaceable mark on the modern NASCAR.
Three other contributors have taken their time and are ready to share their memories from the day Earnhardt died. Matt, Aaron, and Brett each agree that Earnhardt changed the face of NASCAR and will never be forgotten.
I dial the numbers and the phone rings for what feels like forever. Finally, my dad picks up.
"Dale Earnhardt died," I tell him.
It was the afternoon following the 2001 Daytona 500 and Michael Waltrip had won his first race.
My father, a lifelong Earnhardt fan, had just left for work. Joe Weaver had watched the race and that Dale had collided with Ken Schrader while defending DEI's 1-2 push to the finish.
"What?" He asks.
I repeat it and he struggles to force out a response.
It was a short conversation. At 13 years old, I couldn't have realized the profound impact my words had on him. At the time, Dale was just another driver to me. His death was an unfortunate accident.
But to my dad, Dale's death was the end of an era and bookend to a lifestyle and idea.
In the weeks that followed, I witnessed the entire NASCAR community outpour support for their fallen hero.
I didn't fully realize it until years later but I, along with NASCAR's newfound fanbase, envied that sort of devotion.
Just as CBS unrestricted the door to NASCAR's passionate drivers in 1979, FOX had opened the door to their equally passionate fans. The boom period that followed Dale's death was a reflection of such a base. Everyone wanted in.
I wanted to follow a driver just as passionately as the thousands who left memorials at DEI and RCR did. I wanted to follow a driver as closely as my own father had.
It's been ten years and Dale's death impacted me more than I could ever realize. I love this sport more and more each day and my interest truly spiked after seeing the level of devotion displayed on Feb. 18, 2001.
My dad, the fans, media and drivers - they loved one driver to the point of fanaticism. And that envy created the fan that stands before you today.
Brett Hatfield and Aaron Rosser share their thoughts after the fold.
Dale Earnhardt... I'm gonna let you guys in on a little secret. Throughout my life, despite his accomplishments, and liking his son, I never liked him. He was always one of my villains. But that day 10 years ago was just as shocking for me as anyone else. It was burnt into my brain that this guy would be around til the end of time, so it was weird for me knowing that the 3 wouldn't be at Rockingham. I couldn't even be excited that my recently coronated "guy", Kevin Harvick, was getting a chance at glory (and would attain it in amazing fashion two weeks later). It was just a surreal thing. I'm incredibly thankful for what it led to, though. Making these drivers safer is something I will ALWAYS be an advocate for, and the huge leaps in safety we've gotten since Dale's death are greatly appreciated. And while a lot will hate to hear this, that's what his role in making this sport better is for me.
Ten years later, the emotions I most associate with the events of February 18, 2001 are guilt and disbelief.
When I look back at that day, I have to live with the guilt of laughing at the initial image of Earnhardt's wrecked Chevrolet. Not because I wanted him hurt, but because I couldn't stand him and liked seeing him wreck. I knew he'd be mad at somebody, which made me laugh harder.
The laughter stopped when he didn't hop out of the race car and flip the bird at Sterling Marlin as the Coors Dodge rolled by on the cool down lap. And as many other fans have said, the clearly shaken demeanor of the usually gregarious Ken Schrader told me something was terribly wrong.
Still, the shock of learning of Earnhardt's passing later that night - and having to convey it to both of my parents, who likewise detested The Intimidator - is something that to this day hits me with a thud.
I'd just turned 14 a little over two months before Earnhardt's death. I'm 24 now. For more than half of my life up to this point, Dale Earnhardt was a key figure. NASCAR has always been my number one "earthly" passion for as long as I was capable of intelligent thought, and Earnhardt was my villain. As a bad guy, his influence on my life was strong. All the things I associated with Earnhardt - black, the number 3, even mustaches - were bad. Of course, I rooted for a guy with a mustache in a black car, Davey Allison, but Davey was the good guy. Dale was the foil.
Earnhardt's passing truly ripped a void in the sport, not just for his fans, but for his detractors as well. No figure has fit the role of villain quite as well as Earnhardt did. It changed racing forever, for me. In a way, there are two NASCAR's, the "with Dale" and "without Dale." Granted, my love of the sport is stronger today than it was any time when Earnhardt was alive, but still, there is a clear difference in the NASCAR I watched on February 18, 2001, and the NASCAR I have watched in the 10 seasons since.
Feel free to post your own memories of Dale Earnhardt and of February 18, 2001 to our comment section.