Area race fans flock to 'The Intimidator'
By Jim Davis, The Daily News Journal
(January 21, 2001)
Legendary NASCAR driver, Dale
Earnhardt, speaks to the crowd during the Nashville Racing Expo show Friday at the I-24
Expo Center. (Photo by Jim Davis)
When Dale Earnhardt entered the main
hall at the I-24 Expo Center Friday night, the walls vibrated from thundering cheers.
Several thousand fans, some waiting since 6:30 a.m. to get in line for an autograph, had
packed into the Nashville racing Expo's three-day show for an up-close look at "The
"Are you ready for some
racing?" Earnhardt asked the throng, and he was answered with an even louder roar.
"Last year was a long season and it will be even longer this
year," Earnhardt added. "It seems like the winter time was a short time, but it
seems like a long time too. We have already started testing in Daytona and will in Las
Vegas. (Team member) Michael Waldrip is in Rockingham, Steve Parks in Texas and (son) Dale
Jr., is going to be in Kentucky.
"So there is a lot going on even before racing season gets
started. It does seems like a long winter but I'm ready to go racing."
Earnhardt answered questions from his fans for almost an hour before
taking a seat and signing autographs for even longer.
He claimed he didn't remember how he won the October race in
Talledega when he made a charge from 18th place with five laps to go, but does remember
the fan who won $1 million along with him.
"It was a great win for me," Earnhardt said. "But it
was a greater win for the fan that won $1 million. It was so neat to see a race fan win
something like that. He was a truck driver that made around $40,000, now all of sudden he
has $1 million.
"There is so many things you want to buy with the money or even
take the money and retire. But he invested the money, kept his job and bought himself a
Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet pick-up truck. It is just good to see race fans like the ones
here to win that much money."
"Iron Head," as he is called by some, had the full
attention of his fans while on stage. Questions came from all directions and from all
ages. Every time he mentioned Dale Earnhardt Jr., another shout would come from the crowd.
And when asked where his son was Friday night, Earnhardt leaned back in his seat and
explained how important his racing children are to him and his role as a parent is just as
important as his racing.
"When he isn't testing for me or doing something for me, I
don't know where he is," Earnhardt explained. "I can call his house all hours of
the day and night and can never get a hold of him. Now as a parent do I worry about Dale
Jr. Not as much in a race car as I do when I don't know where is.
"But really, I am concerned for him and work hard to make the
cars as safe as I can for him. He knows how you can make mistakes and get into trouble and
he knows the risk. There is not a safe race track anywhere because something can always
"I am really at peace with him and Kerry racing. I care to the
point that I make sure the seat belts and padding, plus all the safety equipment in the
car, is the best.
"Yes, I am concerned when they race but I don't worry about it.
Now it does concern me when Dale Jr. gets on the inside of me and starts to rub on me a
little," he said with a smile.
Earnhardt finished second in the 2000 NASCAR points race and says he
isn't over the hill as he reaching the half-century mark in age. He talked about last
season, what his chances are for the 2001 year, and his plans for the future.
"The last few races of last year is where we really made our
mistakes," Earnhardt explained. "We didn't really get to race Bobby (Labonte)
like we wanted. Rockingham was a tough race and Homestead was a total disaster. We ran
good early at Charlotte but then got behind late in the race.
"And we didn't get close enough to him in Atlanta to put any
pressure on him. But it was good to come home second overall because it really got my fans
pumped and my team fired up for this year. So we are really looking forward to going out
there and really getting after it this year.
"And I feel good about our chances and will keep racing as long
as I feel that I can win and win a championship. I don't want to get out there and
finished 30th every week. I wouldn't like that and my fans wouldn't like it either. I like
to drive race cars and I like to win. I don't like to run second because it isn't any fun.
"NASCAR has had its 50 year anniversary and I will be 50 years
old this year. It sure would be neat to win the championship this year. A 50-year-old,
eight-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion wouldn't be bad, would it?"
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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