Mortality hurts
February 23 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Mortality hurts | Friday, Feb. 23, 2001

Friday, Feb. 23, 2001

Mortality hurts

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor Grown men cried when Dale Earnhardt died. Tough men. Men who wouldn't shed a tear if they lost a leg. Women cried, too. The man in the black number three had countless fans who loved him like family and who took thrilling, vicarious rides with him week after week. Racing fans in Daytona and around the world were stunned when they learned that Earnhardt had died instantly from head injuries after crashing into the fourth turn wall on the final lap of the Daytona 500. The wreck appeared to be a routine wall-slider, so most fans focused on the thrilling finish as Michael Waltrip won his first race in 463 tries, shadowed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., both of whom drove cars owned by Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated.

NASCAR fans have seen hundreds of cars hit the wall, often driven (or tapped) by Earnhardt. When the cars stop rolling, the drivers get out and limp to the ambulance for a mandatory ride to the infield care center. An earlier chain-reaction crash was much more spectacular and frightening, as it sent Tony Stewart's car flying and spinning into the air, landing on other cars, sparking fires. The cars were junk, but everyone walked away.

Not this time.

Many observers call Earnhardt the greatest NASCAR driver ever. His diehard fans loved him with a passion, while others loved to root against him. I was in the latter group because I didn't like his "get out of my way" driving style or his ties to Budweiser, but I was also left gaping for air at the news of his death.

Earnhardt drove with a constant, controlled aggression and was not at all averse to bumping other cars to push them out of his way or to signal his displeasure. He also shunned recent safety developments, continuing to wear an open-face helmet and refusing to use a head and neck restraining system that NASCAR recommends. He openly criticized NASCAR's efforts to slow speeds and increase safety as being "for sissies."

Words like "superstar," "icon" and "institution" fail to express the significance Earnhardt's presence had on NASCAR racing. The media called him "The Intimidator." Competitors called him "Ironhead." There was an aura of invincibility about him, a sense that Dale Earnhardt was indestructible.

But he wasn't.

Neither are we.

That's why it hurts.

The cold reality of his mortality offers a lesson to all who grieve his departure. Let us hope it is a lesson learned.

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2/23/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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