2002 Season

Ripken on hand to honor Earnhardt
Mark SteinIndependent Tribune

(May 15, 2002)
As a television analyst -- first at ESPN, and now for NBC -- 1973 Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons has traveled the world covering stock car racing's top circuit.

He's visited small towns.

He's passed through mid-size cities.

He's experienced life in metropolitan areas.

Yet for all of his travels, Parsons finds when he talks with fans of his sport, the discussion usually centers on a certain small, southern town put on the international map by a homegrown hero.

"It doesn't matter where you go," Parsons recalled. "If you say you're from around Kannapolis, N.C., you hear, 'oh, you know Earnhardt.' And it looks like most of you folks here knew Dale Earnhardt. Let's face it ... he never lost his love for the city of Kannapolis."

And the city for him.

That much was evident Wednesday night when a capacity crowd of nearly 4,000 flocked to Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium to watch the Kannapolis Intimidators retire the No. 3 made famous by its part owner and seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion.

Earnhardt died in a tragic last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 nearly 15 months ago.

Cal Ripken, Jr., a certain lock to be a first ballot selection to the baseball Hall of Fame, presented two No. 3 jerseys to Earnhardt's widow, Teresa Earnhardt, and mother, Martha Earnhardt, during a moving pre-race ceremony prior to Kannapolis' South Atlantic League game against the Hagerstown Suns.

"I'm glad I had the opportunity to come here and articulate, to give you the impression Dale Earnhardt left on me," Ripken, who retired at the end of 2001 after 19 years with the Baltimore Orioles, told the crowd from a podium set up in front of the pitchers mound. "When you watched him here was a guy who was the fiercest of competitors.

"All of us in all of our sports, the main ingredient to be able to play and do well is the ability to compete. And just watching him, no one competed harder than Dale. It was obvious to me he loved his sport. He represented his sport in the highest fashion. He was a true ambassador of his sport.

"He loved his family and he loved his fans. So I think it's only fitting that in his hometown that his No. 3 retired. So, it's with my honor to present to Martha (Dale's mother) and Teresa Earnhardt two jerseys celebrating Dale and his No. 3."Teresa Earnhardt was joined by her late husband's mother, Martha, son Kerry, and daughters Kelley and Taylor Nicole. Also on hand for the festivities were, Intimidator co-owners Bruton Smith and Larry Hedrick, Busch Series driver Randy LaJoie and Chicago White Sox director of player development Bob Fontaine.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., had a prior commitment and couldn't attend.

"I want to express my gratitude to Cal Ripken Jr., and his fans for participating in the ceremony tonight," Teresa Earnhardt said in a statement.

She did not speak at the half-hour event. "Dale loved baseball and we're honored that Cal could be with us.

"He and Dale share a number of similarities. They're both athletes who displayed an incredible dedication for their chosen profession, throughout their entire careers. They both displayed a fierce competitive spirit that generated a huge following for them and their sport. And most importantly, they're both fascinating individuals who maintained an appreciation for their fans and who never forgot where they came from."

Doug Rice, vice president and general manager of PRN, and Parsons served as the master of ceremonies, with the latter relaying an interesting story to Teresa as the family and speakers made their way to the field.

"I was telling Teresa coming down here that last year one of the guys down at City Chevrolet handed me a hand-writte note out of a notebook that was stuck in the glove compartment of a car coming to Charlotte, N.C. A couple of guys had written on the paper, 'tell the Earnhardt family and everyone in

Kannapolis that we're pulling for them.'

"It was two assemblyline workers from Kansas City, Mo., that made the car. But they knew it was coming to Charlotte and they knew if they put a note in there it would somehow get to the Earnhardt family.

"That's how much Dale Earnhardt meant to the Charlotte, Kannapolis and Concord area. He loved this place and he'd sure appreciate all of you folks coming out to show your gratitude."

Fontaine then took the microphone.

"On behalf of the White Sox, this is a great honor for us to be able to be a part of this evening," Fontaine said, who presented Teresa Earnhardt with a No. 3 Chicago White Sox jersey. "I never had the priviledge of meeting Dale Earnhardt, but because of all the great things he accomplished not only on the track but off, I like so manyh can't help but feel that I did know him.

"It's a priviledge for us to have our young players as they head toward the major leagues to have an opportunity to come to this great community and have the opportunity to learn from all the great things that Dale Earnhardt stood for."

Following Ripken's comments, Parson's introduced Sgt. Brian Kirby of the United States Army Special Operations Command wrapped up the ceremony by narrating the program by his four-man parachute demonstration team, who parachuted out of a plane above the stadium, each carrying a No. 3 flag.

Once on the ground, all four members presented the flags to Earnhardt's children, with one exception. The fourth and final flag was taken to the three flag poles located just beyond the left field fence where it was raised.

As it climbed to the top of the pole, the crowd stood and gave an ovation.

"Now, ladies and gentleman, we direct you attention to the flag pole where (the fourth and final flag) has just been delivered," Rice said. "From this day forward, the number 3 will never be worn by the Intimidators again, but the 3 shall always fly above this field."

A couple of letters read by Fontaine:

I'm sorry I could not be there tonight to honor dale Earnhardt, who by
example showed me how to compete, how to never give up and how to win. on this great night forward when you look upon that retired no. 3, know that it
stands for hard work, focus, integrity and the attitude of never giving up no
matter the situation, fearlessness and giving all you have to give every day
of your life. thank you for giving me this opportunity to honor my friend.

-Ned Yost, third base coach Atlanta Braves.

"I wish I could be there with you all tonight to honor dale Earnhardt. dale
Earnhardt was my kind of athlete. they called him the intimidator because he
was the ultimate competitor. fierce, focused and unbending. He'd race you to
the finish line then walk you back through the pits and buy you a beer,
because the intimidator was also a gentleman. his peers both on and off the
race track respected him, not just for his skills and his seven Winston cup
championships, but for how he went about his daily life. I've known great
athletes, in fact, I've known one of the greatest athletes of the 20th
century. as the owner of the Chicago bulls and white sox, I once gave Michael Jordan the ultimate compliment. I said Michael Jordan was the babe Ruth of the NBA. Dale Earnhardt was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR drivers. his memory lives on as an example and an inspiration to all of us. very truly yours,

-Jerry M. Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox.



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