It was 15 years ago. It was yesterday. Dale Earnhardt's number 3 car slid into the wall at the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001. This, the 15th anniversary of that race, will be an emotional one for all.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will ride into the 'Super Bowl of Nascar' as the sentimental favorite. His dad died trying to block for him and teammate Michael Waltrip that day. A rarity and filled with irony as any race fan knows: Dale Earnhardt raced to win. Him being unselfish on the track, for his boy, is what probably led to the wreck. Earnhardt would die of blunt force trauma later that evening at Halifax Medical Center. A country would mourn. His death would be felt outside the Nascar world, as well. Even from a far, the most novice of sports fans understand, what it means, when your heroes die. The grief that struck the nation was felt from Carolina to California. An invincible legend exposed as mere mortal on the sports biggest stage. His numbers are those of legendary proportions. A 7 time (what was then) Winston Cup Series winner, 1979 rookie of the year, 76 wins and 428 top 10's. Those numbers will cement him into Nascar's Mount Rushmore for all of eternity.
Folks that don't follow NASCAR, may not grasp his hold on the fans he left behind. He was The Intimidator. he took a no-holds-barred approach to winning. Nothing was off the table. Just get to the finish line first. That, if nothing else, should explain it all.
Dale Earrnhardt's desire to win was there with Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter. His legacy will always live on, because of that desire to win. It's an American spirit that lives in all of us. One that we still see when that number 3 flies from flags on trucks pulling into this weekend's raceway. It's a ghost, a legend and a tale of days gone by.
This Sunday, in Daytona, more than just 15 years will race by our mind's eye. A way of competing and a way of racing will be celebrated; no matter who the winner. We could only be lucky enough if Little E is the one in the tear -filled winner's circle.
Click on this week's episode of ArmChair QuarterBack Radio's SUNDAY MORNING HUDDLE at 11amET-NoonET WE'RE GOING LIVE AT SPEED WEEK and the DAYTONA 500 or listen to the replay/podcast at Acqb'radio's podbean.