Thursday, February 18, 2021

3 @ 20


Dale Earnhardt was killed at the Daytona 500 twenty years ago today.  I remember watching the crash, and thinking it was nasty, but not severe.  I was shocked when it was announced Earnhardt was dead.  He did not die in vain.  His deadly crash spurred new equipment designs that keep current drivers a little more safe in a dangerous sport.

I was working the next morning.  A photographer and I were sent to the Long Pond area, home of the Pocono races, to talk with race fans and maybe find someone who encountered Earnhardt during his many trips to our area.

We had some success in a diner near the track.  The rest was a lot of asking and a lot of striking out.  My photographer and I were waiting it out in a restaurant parking lot, hoping more people would be out and about later in the morning.  As happens so often in the television news business, we didn't go to the news.  the news came to us.

A woman spotted our truck, and she stopped to tell here story.  She was covered in clothing with Earnhardt's "3" logo.  She was a fan.  A huge one.  Tears were shed as she recounted how much Earnhardt meant to her and the sport of auto racing.  She was television gold, and I had a great story.  She humanized an event that took place hundreds of miles away, and we saw the death through the eyes of a fan.

Outside of Richard Petty, I can't think of anyone who had a bigger impact on auto racing than Dale Earnhardt.