2001 Season

Experiencing the Legacy
By Maverick - TEC

(July 30, 2001)
            As the early morning sun makes it’s way above the horizon, you wearily open your sleep-dried eyes and look in it’s direction.  You stumble to your feet and get ready for the day.  As you are waking up, you feel your adrenaline start to flow.  Excitement fills your veins and starts pumping like motor oil.  It’s race day, and you’re an Earnhardt fan.

            You throw on your Earnhardt gear; hat, shirt, and any other paraphernalia you may have brought with you.  As you make your way to the track, you’re constantly stopped with a handshake or pat on the back with shouts of “nice hat” or “nice shirt”.  You often return the call when a fellow race fan walks by and is touting the same brand outerwear as you.  The kind of clothing that is branded and marked with the Earnhardt insignia, for all to see.  You’re an Earnhardt fan, and you’ll be damned if you’ll let anyone tell you otherwise.

            As fans of other drivers (those non-D.E.I. or R.C.R) walk past, you give that Earnhardt snicker and nod your head in a courteous hello.  You may see small children in red wagons with big number 3s or number 8s on the side.  You breathe a sigh of relief to KNOW that at least another generation of Earnhardt fan will be present and by that time, they will be as brash and strong willed about being Earnhardt fans as you are on this very day.

            You climb to your seat in the grandstands, and look out over the vast track.  A warm feeling comes over you as you take a deep breathe and smell exhaust fumes mixed with burnt rubber and hot asphalt.  Air guns are being tested in the garage area as crewman shout to each other and give orders to prepare for the events that will transpire in the coming hours.  Drivers are walking around to their cars with their wives and families.  Your eyes meet pit-road head on, as you look up and down it, marveling at the cars and the war-wagons.  You rest your eyes on the bright #8 car, and just down from it the white #29, and a tear slips from your eyes as if to signify “I remember when…”. 

Fans stop to remember The Intimidator at his souvenir trailer.
Photo: Jackie

            As you make your way back underneath the grandstands to seek shelter from the heat and to do some souvenir shopping, you’re again stopped by throngs of Earnhardt fans who wish to state proudly that they share your infatuation.  You get in detailed conversations with people you’ve never met, but you have a common topic.  The saying “This was the year” and lots of “Only ifs…” are commonplace.  It makes you sit and reflect on the memories….all 76+ of them.  As one conversation ends, another is soon to begin as you stand in the long lines awaiting you in front of the souvenir trailers.  Waiting in front of The Intimidator’s trailer brings about stories about his hay-day; wrecks and wins; victory lane celebrations, and controversy.  Waiting in front of Little E’s is another story.  Though you may be donning Sr. apparel, Jr. holds a special place in your heart.  People see you and a smile streaks across their face, as does yours, as you know that you are both thinking the same things.  Conversations are sparked about what the future holds.  How will Jr. stack up?  Will he follow in his father’s footsteps?  Those questions are quickly put to rest when, up on the wall of Jr’s trailer is a shirt that states on the front “Taking the story to another level” and on the back “Intimidation II – Another Generation of Intimidation”.  You laugh as you realize that the future of stock car racing is solid as long as an Earnhardt is at the forefront, and there will be one for many years to come.

            Making your way back to your seat is harder now.  The track is filling and it’s getting closer to race time.  Now it seems that every other person you see is sporting some type of Earnhardt camouflage.  The Earnhardt fans seem to be growing in number.  They are easily out-numbering any other driver by 10-1.  As you climb to your seats, the pre-race activities start, and in just a few moments, the command will be given.  The drivers are just now being introduced.  There are weak to moderate responses for the drivers, until one name that is.  One name that causes such a defining noise that it is paralleled only by the sound of the ocean’s waves crashing on its rocky shore.  As the announcer towers over the P.A. system, the crowd grows to a frenzy.  “And, driving the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet, DALE EARNHARDT JR!”  The noise around you is unbelievable.  Fans are holding up 3 fingers and people are waving their #8 hats in the air.  As Jr comes around in the back of the pickup truck, the fans start to cheer “Junior” and “Earnhardt”.  Little E, with his hat backwards, waves and smiles thankfully.  He knows the fans love him, and he knows the fans support him.  He knows he is an Earnhardt, and he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone tell him different.

In what has become a year-long ritual, fans at the race track hold up three fingers to salute Dale Earnhardt on Lap 3.

            As the command to fire engines is given, you’re ready.  You’re ready to get it on for however many miles this race is…it doesn’t matter to you because you’re there, and you’re an Earnhardt fan.  As the cars go green, you can’t help but feel kind of awkward.  You cheer for Jr and Harvick and the rest of the gang, but in that place in your heart you can feel something missing, and that something is the black number 3.  Only time can heal that, and you know it.  When the field comes around to take lap 3, you stand with both hands in the air with the 3-finger salute, honoring your fallen hero.  As you look around, all 100,000 people (or as far as you can see) are doing the same.  People have tears in their eyes and others are shouting with joy.  As the field comes to take lap 4, everyone settles back down, and a warm feeling of belonging sweeps through the stands, because for that lap, everyone was unified in remembering Dale Earnhardt.

            As the race ends, you walk back towards your camper, and begin the same ritual that brought you to the track.  People stop you and compliment you on your attire, and by now, you know you’ve had a great day.  One thing you are noticing is that it is not only fellow Earnhardt fans that are complimenting you now, but fans of all drivers.  Whoever it may be, a bunch of people are talking to each other and having a great time.  Earnhardt and Gordon fans are reminiscing of the days of the Intimidator v.s. the Rainbow Warrior.  Regardless of who your favorite is, everyone seems to be an Earnhardt fan.  As you walk away from the track, you feel great at what the day has done for you, yet, confused.  It bewilders you how fans of other drivers can be talking as if longtime Earnhardt fans.  That is when it hits you.  Dale touched EVERYONE and his affects on the common person were not reserved for only his diehard fans.  Anyone who is a true race fan sees what he did for the sport and it makes you proud to see the homage that is being paid to him.  He may be gone, but his affect on the sport is ever lasting.  He is anything but forgotten.  What other sport can you talk to people you have never met and feel like you’ve known them your whole life?  What other sport will fans of another team come up and talk with you and be your best friend even though you route for their rival?  What other sport in the world is there that people join together to support one common thing?  What other event is there that brings 100,000 people together in peace and happiness; to rejoice and have fun and to enjoy each other’s company?  There is none, for just like Dale, the sport that he built is unparalleled in all aspects.  This is an experience you will never forget.  You are an Earnhardt fan, and damn proud of it.

Maverick can be contacted at maverick3800@hotmail.com



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