Elvis, Earnhardt and Me
by Rob Faiella
January 24, 2002

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With the Daytona 500 coming up in just a few weeks and with testing already under way, the focus has once again come on the loss of Dale Earnhardt, how Junior is dealing with it, and how the fans are dealing with it. Yes, it has been a year, and yes, we have been back to Daytona, and yes Junior even won there adding some closure. So why is there still all this focus? It is simple. Because we are talking about Dale Earnhardt, that is why.

Jerry Bonkowski wrote, in my opinion, a very disturbing and disrespectful article on Espn's RPM section this past week. Jerry started with...

Dale Earnhardt at The Glen in August of 2000.

"News flash: Dale Earnhardt isn't buried! 

That's the type of headline you might see on one of those supermarket tabloids, where fiction is stranger than fact.

But this is real life, and unfortunately, the truth be told, we're quickly seeing an increasing media frenzy as we get closer to the one-year anniversary of Earnhardt's tragic death. The way some reporters are talking of late, it would seem as if the Man in Black really isn't buried after all.

Why, after nearly a year, can't we go on with our lives? Why can't we put The Intimidator's memory behind us? Why must we constantly bring up instances that are related to Earnhardt, even if they have no direct bearing on the situation?

The man is dead and nothing we do will bring him back. Still, the NASCAR media community continues to focus on Earnhardt as if he's only away for an extended vacation, in much the same way some people think of Elvis Presley, nearly 25 years after his death."

So what is the problem Jerry? Dale Earnhardt was so much to so many that his memory and the "frenzy" around it will live on forever. This is not a bad thing. Jerry also wrote, "As cruel as it may sound, Dale Earnhardt is buried, he has been buried for nearly a year, and will continue to be buried for eternity.

Why, then, can't we leave his memory buried as well, rather than resurrecting it at every opportunity? "

Leave his memory buried? I for one enjoy his memory and I enjoy sharing it with others. I also can relate to what Dale Jr is going thru and I do not think for one moment that Jr would want people to "bury his father's memory" How can I relate to Jr? Let me explain.

I grew up with my dad around race cars. He won track championships at local short tracks and I wanted to be like him. My parents got divorced when I was 10 and he moved away and so did that dream. My mom remarried and her and my step-father had a rock band. My step-father taught me how to play the drums and he quickly became my idol and hero and I joined his band and we played clubs and events and were best of friends. We shared a common interest, we were both good at it and we thrived off of each other's passion for the music. Well, in 1994, at the age of 39, he died. Our band was a couple minutes away from going on stage and him and I were at the side of the stage talking and he collapsed from a heart attack and was gone. 

It wasn't until after his death and at the funeral services that I realized what he meant to me and to others. The numbers of people from the local music scene that showed up to pay tribute was unbelievable. We put the band back together without him, it wasn't the same, but we knew he would want us to carry on. Any of this sounding familiar? Everywhere I went, people would ask how I was doing. People would have a story about a memory they had or a time they shared with him. Sometimes I got choked up, but I was always proud. This man meant a lot to quite a few people, not the numbers that mourn Dale, but that isn't the point. I felt good knowing that he touched so many people in such a positive way. 

As time has gone on, those memories have faded. Less people mention him, and even our family conversations have turned to other things. I still think of him and I still miss him. If someone were to talk to me about him tomorrow, I wouldn't feel like they were dragging it out or feel it "had no bearing on the situation" as Jerry put it. So what. The point is that when people die, they leave us a wonderful gift. That gift is their memory and that is something to be cherished, not rushed away because it isn't relevant. And it shouldn't be measured against the mourning period for others. Jerry mentioned about Kenny Irwin and Adam and even Davey and Kulwicki. Maybe the public mourning and outcry was smaller, but their deaths and those losses were not. They were just dealt with differently.

The Intimidator will live on forever.

I agree that the media should not be hounding Jr about his feelings and how he is dealing with the situation of returning to the 500. But, let Dale Earnhardt's memory live forever, do not bury it and do not force yourself to "get over it" because too much time has passed. Deal with it in your own way, respect others and the way they deal with it and smile knowing that one man could mean so much to so many. 

Last week was Elvis' birthday and tons of people flocked to Graceland to pay respects. A lot of these people weren't even born until after Elvis died. This living tribute is an honor and something to be proud of. Not something to sweep under the carpet.

I will never forget my step-father's memory and I will say things like .. "remember that time when Charlie said..." or "that reminds me of the time that...." Am I dwelling? No. Does anyone have the right to tell me how to deal with it? NO. Does Jerry Bonkowski owe the Earnhardt family and Dale fans an apology? In my opinion, yes he does. 

Related Article: Senna and Earnhardt - Rest in Peace

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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Elvis Earnhardt and Me
Rob Faiella  1/24/02

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