Earnhardt's influence still felt at Daytona
500By Lewis Franck
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 14, 2002)
Two years after Dale Earnhardt Sr's death at the last turn on the last lap of the Daytona
500, the seven-time Winston Cup champion's influence is still keenly felt.
Known as the Intimidator for his rough-and-tumble driving style in the black No. 3 Richard
Childress Racing Chevrolet, Earnhardt, Sr. appeared all but indestructible and still
championship material at the age of 50.
Then came the fatal accident.
John Andretti, a nephew of former World and Indy 500 champion, Mario Andretti, who now
drives for the only other seven-time champ Richard Petty, explained: "It was like
with Richard and my uncle.
"It (death at a race) didn't happen to them, they said it would never happen with
them," he said. "Then the immortal became mortal."
Just as Earnhardt was larger than life, a nine-foot 1,200 pound, statute of the fallen
racer stands outside the Daytona International Speedway proclaims that he remains larger
in death also.
The only others so honored are NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. and his wife Anne B.
forming a Mt. Rushmore-style tableaux of stock car racing.
Memorial decals are plastered on race fans' vehicles as they approach the hallowed ground
of the Speedway. Numerous couples have had wedding ceremonies in front of the statue.
More than just the fans, Earnhardt's influence is felt among the team that he owned and
the team he drove for.
Meanwhile, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to drive for the team, Dale Earnhardt
Incorporated (DEI), started by his father and now owned by his step-mother Teresa.
Jeff Green, who sits on the pole for Sunday's race, drove for the elder Earnhardt and now
drives a Chevrolet owned by Earnhardt's former team owner Richard Childress Racing (RCR).
The top four grid positions are all occupied by drivers from either DEI or RCR -- Green,
Earnhardt Jr., Robby Gordon (RCR) and Michael Waltrip (DEI).
The two teams consistently run well on the high banked, high speed tracks like Daytona and
Talledega where the 3,400-pound race cars are fitted with a restrictor plate on the
carburetor to reduce speed.
Earnhardt Jr. explained why the two teams, which previously had a technical cooperative
program, continue to do so well.
"We take a lot of pride in our restrictor-plate programs, and Richard always has and
they've always ran well at them and always had a lot of success there and they continue to
today," he said.
Childress, a former driver, said: "Dale, he was the man here for many, many years. We
just gave him a car. I'll always give Dale Earnhardt all the credit."
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