Stay Tuned
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

More on the Legacy of Dale Earnhardt...

When I was writing this week’s “Stay Tuned” column, my husband asked me how I remember that it was Sean McDowell who was telling the sports on 13 News the night Dale Earnhardt died. “I just remember,” I told him.

That moment is a tough one to forget for longtime NASCAR fans like me. After all, it changed the sport we love forever.

Sean and I have known each other for quite a while, but we had never spoken about that day until last week. Now, 10 years later, Sean remembers it just as crystal clearly as I do.

“It was a defining moment. Sports will never be the same,” he told me.

There are probably some who are reading this that think Sean is overblowing it a little, but I am certainly not one of them. Dale Earnhardt was not only the most popular athlete in his sport, he was also one of the most successful and still at the top of his game. Sean compared it to the death of Elvis Presley. For a more current example, I would compare it to the death of Michael Jackson. But both comparisons are correct. Both deaths left a huge hole in an entire industry. Earnhardt’s death left a huge hole in his industry that I don’t believe has ever been filled.

But not only did it leave a hole in NASCAR, it completely changed the sport as we know it. Though still very dangerous, NASCAR racing is much, much safer than it was 10 years ago. And NASCAR is still making tweaks on a weekly basis to keep the drivers even safer.

For me, Earnhardt’s death also changed the way I watch races. I’ve been watching NASCAR since I was a kid. But I admit I had grown complacent about wrecks. After all, I had seen guys walk away time and time again. And the wreck in turn four that claimed Earnhardt’s life didn’t look like that big of a deal.

As Sean told me, “It was the most incredulous moment of my career. I looked at someone in the newsroom and said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.’ Dale Earnhardt does not die.”

I was thinking that exact same thing that day, only I carried it one step further. If Dale Earnhardt could die, then no one was safe—and not just on the track.

So now when I watch a race—especially at Daytona or Talledega—every wreck is a big deal until I see the face of the person who was in it, telling us he’s alright.

But even with all of that, Earnhardt’s true legacy won’t be found on the track…

People have been saying that it’s safety and the changes that were made within NASCAR. But I would say his most important legacy is that 10 years later, his death still stands as a reminder that no one knows what’s going to happen on any given day. So we should make sure everyone we love knows it.

I’m betting if we could talk to Dale right now, he’d say he left this world with no regrets. Wouldn’t we all like to be able to say the same?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, feel free to post a comment or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

SPEED presents “The Day: Remembering Earnhardt” Friday, February 18th at 10 p.m. and Saturday, February 19th at 7:30 p.m. The Daytona 500 airs Sunday, February 20th beginning with the pre-race show at noon on FOX…