Isn't it interesting how certain events in life stand out as a pivotal moment? I see the scene played out in my mind's eye, as if it just happened yesterday.
I was sitting on the floor in front of the television on that Sunday afternoon, 10 years ago. I was a new widow, still in the beginning stages of grief, as I watched the Daytona 500 that year. Alone. My husband who had been a huge Dale Earnhardt fan, got me hooked on NASCAR from the time we had first started dating. Everyone knew his devotion to #3. Now, I was the one watching the race....cheering for Dale Sr. in the confines of my living room, even as I mourned the death of my husband who had been his biggest fan. It was almost therapy for me....as in my mind, the two men were intertwined. The man and the fan.
In the last lap of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt was in second place behind Michael Waltrip. Things were looking good. Then it happened. The black car smashed into the wall. In the blink of an eye...it was over. Dale didn't emerge from his car.
I had to leave to go to evening church, not knowing if the Intimidator was even alive. I remember after the service the pastor quietly said, "I was just informed that Mr. Earnhardt did not survive the crash this afternoon. He is gone. Let's say a prayer for his family."
Gone. Not coming back. Even though I did not know this racing legend personally, to me he was a symbol of something shared with my late husband. His death was another loss. Painful and all consuming.
The 2011 NASCAR season starts this Sunday, in the race at Daytona. A lot has happened in the ten years since the tragic accident where "the man in black" lost his life. Much has changed. In NASCAR....and with me.
The paths we walk in this life, don't come with maps. We don't have tour guides and we have no idea what the future holds. We like to think we do, but the future could change in a split second....we are not the ones in control.
I don't presume to know the state of Mr. Earnhardt's eternal soul, but when he got into his car that afternoon, I'm pretty sure he had no idea that he was going to be stepping into eternity by the time the race was over. I pray he was ready.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:7
- Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt and the Most Impressive Victories (bleacherreport.com)
- Richard Childress made a promise to the late Dale Earnhardt, and he kept it (sports.espn.go.com)
- Years After Earnhardt's Death, Waltrip Talks (online.wsj.com)
- Michael Waltrip to honor Dale Earnhardt at Daytona 500 on 10th anniversary of death (sports.espn.go.com)
- Earnhardt's loss still felt 10 years after death (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Michael Waltrip's New Book Relives Dale Earnhardt Crash At Daytona (sbnation.com)