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Remembering Dale Earnhardt - who died needlessly
Dale Earnhardt would still be with us today had NASCAR not failed to mandate the HANS Device.  He died of a Basel Skull fracture, the very injury the HANS Device was designed to prevent. In fact his wreck was not that violent at all.  CART, F1, IRL and other series had already mandated HANS.  NASCAR dug their heals in and it cost Earnhardt his life.
It was one of those moments when time stands still, a moment most any NASCAR fan can recall with vivid clarity and detail.

Everyone knows where they were when they heard the news Dale Earnhardt had been killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. 

As SPEED prepares to honor that fateful day 10 years ago in The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, a one-hour special premiering Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET, several of those closest to Earnhardt share their recollections of that afternoon and the man who left an indelible mark on the sports world.

Below are excerpts from interviews from The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt with Michael Waltrip, who won the 2001 Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI), Ty Norris, then EVP of motorsports at DEI and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s spotter that day, and Kenny Schrader, who rushed to Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet to check on his friend after the accident.  Additionally, key figures in Earnhardt’s life recall where they were when they learned of his passing and share their favorite memories of the man larger than life, the one forever immortalized as The Intimidator.

Michael Waltrip, from The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt:
“Dale Jr. was second, he (Earnhardt) was third, I just thought it was perfect.  Everything went just like Dale said it would.  And I couldn’t wait to see him.

“There weren’t any words.  We just grabbed each other and held each other and went to the motorhome and began to try to … live with it.  I started wondering how I was supposed to feel at that moment and I haven’t stopped wondering since.”

Ty Norris, from The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt: 
“All of a sudden I saw this black car make this abrupt right-hand turn and when I did, the first thing that came out of my mouth to Dale Jr. was, “You lost your partner.  You lost your drafting partner.

“What this sport lost when they lost Dale Earnhardt was the swagger.  Until that is replaced, the sport will always have a void.”
Kenny Schrader from The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt: 
“I hustled down to Victory Lane because Mikey, which he jokes about ‘oh-for-462’ or something, had just won the Daytona 500. What a big deal.  And I was just up with his boss in turn three and four and that was a big deal, too.”

Steve Byrnes, host of NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED and Earnhardt friend:
“Larry McReynolds and I walked to the Daytona airport after the race and after we boarded the plane, he got a call that confirmed Dale’s death.  I remember looking at Larry and saying, ‘What are we going to do about next week?’ It was such an odd, lost feeling.  I couldn’t imagine how the sport could move forward without Dale. In my mind, we wouldn’t and couldn’t go to Rockingham the next week.  I was hosting Totally NASCAR at the time and I remember thinking ‘Are we even going to have a show tomorrow? Is there a race? Is there a NASCAR anymore?’ 

“I always will remember the person Dale was.  Dale was the first professional athlete I had seen with Make-A-Wish children, but he always refused to let anyone videotape those visits.  He’d get down eye-to-eye with the kids and make them feel really special.  It was like he and that child were the only two people in the world at the moment.  With those children, Dale wasn’t just The Intimidator – he was magic.

“Dale, a camera man and I flew down to a very rustic, bare-bones hunting lodge in the middle of nowhere near Montgomery, Alabama, to shoot a feature on Dale turkey hunting.  We were riding around the property when Dale shot a turkey from his Chevy Blazer.  He then turned to me and said, ‘If the game warden comes, I did NOT shoot this turkey from the Blazer.’ He then picked up the turkey and threw it on top of the Blazer.  Classic Earnhardt.

“One of my favorite stories about Dale involved a pastor at a local church in Mooresville.  Of course, Dale didn’t get to go to church much because he was racing, but the pastor stopped by the shop while Dale was signing autographs for fans.  He asked the pastor what he was working on over at the church and the pastor said they were raising money to pave a parking lot.  Dale asked how much he needed to raise and the pastor told him $7,000.  Dale pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check on the spot.  He said, ‘If you tell anyone about this, I’m going to bring one of my bulldozers over there and tear up that parking lot myself.’”

Larry McReynolds, analyst for NASCAR on SPEED and FOX Sports and former Earnhardt crew chief:
“Just like everyone remembers where they were when they learned JFK had died or where they were when the planes flew into the Twin Towers on September 11, I remember learning of Dale’s death just like it was this morning.    It was our first broadcast of NASCAR on FOX and  I was trying to keep my focus on my job at hand, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from what was going on in turn four. One part of me kept thinking Dale was going to get out of that car and be mad at someone.  He was going to raise hell at whoever got to him first because he had a third-place finish in the bag and his DEI cars were going to finish 1-2. Some poor safety worker likely was going to be the first one to the car and the guy was going to catch hell.  But I kept seeing a sequence of events that gave me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach -- when I saw Kenny Schrader go to the car and panic, when I saw safety workers get to the car and panic.  But the one thing that told me the outcome of this wreck weren’t good was the ambulance.  I can see the sight just like it was yesterday. The ambulance left the scene of the wreck and never stopped at the infield care center, drove right out of the tunnel and drove down Speedway Boulevard and it wasn’t in a hurry.  I knew in my heart that something bad was wrong.  I walked to the airport for a commercial flight that night.  That little part of me kept telling myself he may be hurt but he’s going to be okay.  But I kept replaying all those things I saw in my mind and just had a bad feeling about it.  I was at the airport when our producer called me and said, ‘Larry, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Dale didn’t make it.’ I was in a state of shock.

“There is no question everyone thought that if anyone could survive a bad wreck, it was Dale.  I think everybody, including Dale, felt he was invincible.  Yeah, he could get hurt and had been hurt pretty severely in 1996, but I don’t think anyone thought Dale Earnhardt would get killed in a race car - not him, no one who raced him, none of his fans.  Nobody ever even thought twice about the possibility.  Dale Earnhardt would not die in a race car. 

“After something like Dale’s death, you always think back to things you saw around the time.  God has a mysterious way of working.  I will never forget the sight right before he climbed into that car for the start of the Daytona 500. He always gave Teresa a hug and kiss but it was almost like he gave her an extra hug that day.  I remember the sight of him giving Dale Jr. a ‘man hug’ right before the race.  When you think back to things like that, you think, ‘That was really strange.’ But it also was really special.”

Kenny Wallace, analyst for NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot on SPEED and former DEI driver:

“My one-on-one time with Dale was so special.  When I won the Budweiser 300 up at Loudon in 1991, he told me to come by the shop.  I wondered what he wanted but didn’t ask questions.  Because Dale couldn’t go out in public without getting mobbed, we sat in his shop and ate spaghetti and salad on a picnic table to celebrate. 

“When motorhomes were getting big, he called me up and said, ‘Herman, I’m in my motorhome.  You want to ride to Darlington with me?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah’.  Dale drove up to my house, picked me up in the motorhome and the two of us rode to Darlington.  I got advice on everything from racing to life to love on that trip – advice like no one but Dale Earnhardt could give.”

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