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Subject:  On Losing an Icon Date:  2/19/2001  11:25 AM
Author:  CrazyLegsPat Number:  621 of 2400

Yesterday I sat down to watch the "Super Bowl" of my favorite sport, NASCAR Winston Cup racing. It was the Daytona 500, the first race of the year, and all was well in America.

Earlier in the week some drivers had mentioned that while the increased aerodynamics (issued by NASCAR) made the cars more competitive, also made things more dangerous. The regulations would take away the "draft to pass" effect and place drivers in situations they'd never encountered. They'd have to drive closer together and make dicey moves to gain an advantage. NASCAR had effectively made racing more "competetive" in a lame attempt to increase ratings. Bad move.

Well into the race one of my faves, Tony Stewart, was tapped from behind and went flipping end over end while another 20 racers drove right into the mele. It was the most horrific looking crash I'd seen in over 20 years of following this sport. The only consolation to this horror was that no one was hurt. I sat there thinking 'something is really, really wrong here'.

The race finally got underway again and was about to end in historic fashion. Michael Waltrip, who'd never won a race in well over 200 tries, was leading the last lap and coming around turn 4 to take it. He was making his first appearance in a car owned by Dale Earnhart, a 7-time Winston Cup Champion and a legend who was considered the greatest modern-day racer of our time. In second place was Dale's son, Dale Jr. In the booth was Michael Waltrip's brother Daryl, a 3-time Winston Cup Champion making his first appearance in the booth. Michael rounded turn 4 as his brother was screaming into the mike with tears in his eyes..... what a moment! 2 Dale Earnhart-owned cars, one of them driven by a new team member who'd never won a race and was about to win a millon dollars, and the other driven by his son, were about to finish 1-2....incredible! And then it happened. As Earnhart Sr. rounded turn 4 and accelerated into the straight he was tapped slightly by Sterling Marlin. His car went down on the apron (a horrible, horrible place to be because there's only one place for a car to go once you've tried to correct it off the apron, and that's up.....toward the wall). And sure enough his car was catapaulted sideways and right at the wall at 185 miles per hour. He hit the wall in the worst possible way....straight on. It was the last moment of his life. As he lay lifeless in his car his new driver and his son were crossing the finish line to a roaring crowd and a crying brother in the booth.

It's almost impossible to sum up the feelings of an avid race fan who's just witnessed a story of simultaneous triumph and tragedy. At one moment crying for the triumph of Michael Waltrip and his teary-eyed brother, and 2 hours later crying for the tragedy of Dale Earnhart. A saying that epitomizes competitive sport is "no guts, no glory". Dale Earnhart had the guts, and he had the glory....and now he's gone.

R.I.P. Dale, I'll miss you so.

Dale Earnhart- "The Intimidator"- 1951-2001

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