2002 Season

February 18, 2001: The day fans will remember
By Candace Priore

(January 20, 2002)
The day Ralph "Dale" Earnhardt died, Feb. 18, 2001 is a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of race fans.


When I ask fans how they felt that day the answer is 'Like I lost a family member and a friend' or 'Like I was sucker punched in the stomach' or 'devastated'. There are other various ways of saying it but they all mean the same thing. They miss him.

It has been almost a year now and the feelings are still the same. Maybe on a lesser level because as time passed the intense feeling of grief eased. Not much. Not fully. But some.

To this day they can remember where they were when they heard the news. I can remember where we were. I was playing a game on the internet and my husband, the Earnhardt fan, was watching me. We hadn't watched the race that day for several reasons and so knew nothing about the accident. My mother called us to tell us he was in the hospital. When we heard that, my husband said 'Ok, he'll be out before the week is up and racing again next week.' Then she called to say they announced his death. My husband could not believe it. One wall in our dining room was covered in Dale pictures, hot wheels cars still in the packaging, and several other things. He stood there with silent tears running down his face. All I could do was stand there and cry with him.

I'm not a Dale fan. In fact, racing is not my sport of choice. But I cried along with everyone else. I cried for his family, for his friends, for his fans and for my husband. When I recently asked fans if they still remebered where they were when they heard the news, I received stories similar to ours. Here are a few of the many answers I got.


'Absolutely. I had taped the race because here in Alaska it comes on during church, and church is my priority. I was in the living room watching the tape of the race and had just come to the end when a friend called and gave me the bad news.'--From Earndoggy

'Of course! I had just finished watching the Daytona 500 with a few friends and we were all waiting to hear word on Dale's condition. We all knew (but wouldn't admit) that he was gone. We heard it in Ken Schrader's voice in his interview, even though he didn't say so. It was just so hard to believe. It took a long time to sink in.' --From Laurie French

'I got the word from NBC. It was during an NBA half-time show...Ahmad Rahshad, I believe it was, announced it. I was hoping he was wrong. My family was all in the game room of our home playing billiards and talking about the race that had just completed. When the word came out, I swear, my blood ran cold. Chills ran down my back. My throat lumped up. It couldn't be true. The whole family(most Earnhardt fans), looked straight at me and asked if I would be OK. I said, of course, but they knew I was in trouble.'--From Branden Nickles in Lima, Ohio

'Yes, I was sitting right here searching for information on
the internet. When it was announced that Dale had died, I was in shock. I had
expected bad news, but not death.'--From Gary Ward

And my favorite, I asked my husband and he said 'Yes, now shut up and leave me alone about it. I don't want to talk about Dale. It still hurts.'--Jim Roberts

You just have to love that one. The reason is because that sums up the feelings of most fans. Although some want to talk about him because it keeps him alive in their hearts and memories.

Racing won't be the same without that black car roaring around the track. For several they stopped watching completely. Jim, my husband, stopped for a few weeks. But with race fans who cheer for other drivers around he couldn't stay away long. Other fans left for a short time and also came back.

William Kissinger told me 'Yes, it somehow doesn't seem as "cool" That's hardly an Ivy league answer, but it's how I feel.' when I asked if his feelings for racing was changed.

'Very much so. I seldom watch a race now. Occasionally I may watch the end, but only if Dale, Jr or Harvick are leading.'--Sandy Pickett

Out of loyalty to Dale everyone I asked is now cheering for Jr., the DEI team or Harvick. Their main loyalty though is still with Dale. They want him back but know it isn't going to happen. So they cheer for his son and for his team.

Racing is an inherently dangerous sport. Most fans understand that. They wish it would be safer but the only way to truly make it safe is to lower the speeds at which they drive and that will never happen. It would not be racing then. So the fans pray every time there is a wreck, hoping that the driver is ok. And they cheer when he is.

The fans want Dale remembered and feel that so far he has been. But what about next year or the year after. How will Dale best be remembered? While some feel that the number 3 should be retired, most feel that Jr. should be driving the number 3. It would be a loving tribute to his father if he did and the fans would feel that Dale has not been forgotten.

A fifteen year old sums it all up nicely when he said, "I still can't believe a year has passed since that fateful day, Feb. 18, 2001. I can still see Dale sitting behind the wheel of his car before the race. I have memories of him kissing Teresa one last time before the final ride of his life. During the red flag for the big wreck, I can still see him talking to Jr. for the last time. And every time NASCAR goes to Daytona, the re-play of the horrific crash will haunt me until I get tired of racing, or until the day I die." - Chris

This is the way the fans feel about Feb 18, 2001. A day they will remember until the day they die.



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