My best friend, Craig, has recently taken up an interest in motor sports, which is awesome, only because I am a HUGE racing fan. You see, I grew up in a racing house. My father, being an auto technician and avid NASCAR fan, got me into racing at a very young age and I have loved it ever since. I even scored tickets to the 2005 Pepsi 400 at Daytona Speedway for his birthday and was able to get him to fly out to go with me when I was living in Orlando for a bit. We love NASCAR.
The reason I mention Craig is because of something he mentioned the other night… He was/is having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that while Dale Earnhardt was undoubtedly an amazing driver, why, after 10 years, are people still making his death as big of a deal as they are? We tried to think of any other sports legend and there is no one that comes to mind that has the same emotion tied to them 10 years after their death. This may be my best explanation..
Dale Earnhardt was and probably will ever be the most popular race car driver. Period. Baseball, football, hockey, basketball, and even soccer have all had their greats, but no sport has ever come close to having a Dale Earnhardt. No one person has ever been idolized, revered, hated, and loved like Dale Sr. was. His biggest admirers were those who hated him. He was a stern, no-nonsense type of a guy who didn’t like the media, was a man’s man, and was kind of an A-hole on the track. He was the villain you rooted for because he could take a crappy car (he would never mince words about it) and carry it on his back to victory lane. He would put you in the wall for looking at him funny, and continue driving to the checkered flag. And, most of all, he would most definitely hate the fact that every one is making a huge deal about him 10 years later.
Dale Earnhardt was not in the twilight of his career when he was taken from us 10 years ago. He was in the middle of an amazing career that already saw him win 7 championships and numerous other accolades. His son, Dale Jr. was an up and coming driver in NASCAR and they were primed to take on the NASCAR world together.
So why the big deal about losing a race car driver in one of the most dangerous sports? Because there wasn’t someone like him before and there will most likely never be someone like him again. He was the genuine article, BAMF NASCAR driver that is missing from the sport. When He spoke, which wasn’t often, people listened. His opinions about the direction of the sport were respected and valued. He had a sense of authority about him that never failed. He was The Intimidator.
Jimmie Johnson may have just won his 5th straight championship, Kyle Bush may have the attitude that is sparking memories of the Man in Black, and of course, the Son of the legend is still making his own name in the field of 43, but I’m guessing no one will ever measure up to the complete package that was Dale Earnhardt Sr.