Earnhardt dead at Daytona.
February 18, 2001 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Earnhardt dead at Daytona. This came after a much more hideous looking wreck on lap 175 which took out almost 20 cars, but from which everyone more or less walked away. Earnhardt wrecked in the final lap. In a two-car crash. In the rear view mirror of his son. I don't think "ironic" even comes close.
posted by jammer (30 comments total)
I don't think "ironic" is even relevant. It's just sad.
posted by megnut at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2001

megnut, I agree completely. I've been a NASCAR fan since I was a young boy, and Dale has long been one of my favorite drivers. If I seemed perhaps removed in my post, it's because I'm dealing with the emotions that come from watching one of your boyhood heroes die, live, on television.

It's very sad, and I'm rather shaken up by it.

I like what they just said on CNN, for people who may not be as familiar with NASCAR: "This would be the equivalent, say of Michael Jordan dropping dead on the floor, infront of everyone, in game 7 of the finals." Very fitting, and very true.

I'm sad.
posted by jammer at 5:09 PM on February 18, 2001

It didn't even look like that bad of crash! Especially compared to the previous mega-accident, where a guy's car was flipping all over the place. What a sad day. Hard to believe he was only 49 -- he seemed like he was around forever.
posted by smackfu at 6:29 PM on February 18, 2001

Either someone has astoundingly bad taste, or they're not quick enough on the trigger. I'm watching the History channel and I just saw an ad for an official Dale Earnhardt clock. I'm thoroughly disgusted.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:30 PM on February 18, 2001

I know that as member of the webloging, metafilter-reading demographic, NASCAR isn't typically our arena - but I'm honestly saddened and upset by Earnhardt's death.

My wife, raised in a NASCAR house, got me into the living room this afternoon to watch the final 10 laps as Michael Waltrip, the "Rudy" of the Winston Cup (this being his first win in 400+ races), crossed the finish line as teammates Dale and Dale Jr. held off the rest of the pack. Little did he know what the cost of his victory really would be.

Athletes or not, I salute the men and women of this sport. When one has passion in life, it doesn't matter what your medium is - nor your limitations. They live, and die, by something they love. I just wish the latter wasn't true today.
posted by mecawilson at 6:42 PM on February 18, 2001

NASCAR doesn't really touch me: it has its own, devout, constituency. But I look at the obits, and the face of the man, and remember -- all too vividly -- the crash that killed Ayrton Senna in San Marino. And know the sadness.

We admire these people for dicing with death. And then they die, and we're lessened in their deaths. And a little shamed. Not that they perform for our benefit, but still, they give us that vicarious rush, that taste of death.
posted by holgate at 6:44 PM on February 18, 2001

I'm in NC visiting my parents, and I just saw the in-car footage of the crash used as a "news at 11" teaser. That's really, really sick.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:01 PM on February 18, 2001

If I'm not mistaken, Daytona was NASCAR's debut on FOX. The tragedy of the accident aside, I wonder if the FOX executives look on this as good or bad for ratings. The network that brings us "World's Most Deadly Car Crashes" must have some mixed emotions here.

For the record, I too am sad.
posted by jpoulos at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2001

That in-car footage is spooky. It doesn't show anything, aside from the hood flying up and obscuring the view, but the fact that it's the last thing he saw is pretty macabre.
posted by rcade at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2001

Being a loyal NASCAR fan, I must say this is one of the saddest yet most ironic days I've ever seen.

Prior to the race I watched Earnhardt and his wife looking like newly weds which struck a funny chord. I've never seen him quite like that with his wife and I thought to myself what a difficult feeling it must be to do what those guys do every Sunday.

I then watched Earnhardt be Earnhardt from the green lap up until 5 laps to go. I watched him make moves that others don't have the balls nor the skill to do. I watched him muscle his way through traffic at times like a bull, and watched him slice and dice with masterful precision at others, cursing him one minute and shaking my head in disbelief over an outstanding move the next. The man has made me curse more than any other driver over the years, yet he has amazed me more than any other driver and I've respected his ability more than anyone I've seen on the track.

With 5 laps to go, I saw something I've never witnessed in NASCAR racing. In all the years I've followed this sport and watched Earnhardt compete with a fire that I've yet to see from anyone else... I've always had the firm belief that the man would bump his own mother to win a race. What I witnessed the last 5 laps of the 2001 Daytona 500 was unbelievable. All of a sudden, the fiercest competitor I've ever seen in this sport stopped competing for himself. Here he was, sitting in a great position for a shot at the win and he stopped racing. I find it very sad and ironic that the day the greatest driver in modern times put selfishness aside to bless another with his first victory, the sport he's loved so much over the years took his life.

posted by moural at 8:48 PM on February 18, 2001

smackfu: "It didn't even look like that bad of crash! Especially compared to the previous mega-accident, where a guy's car was flipping all over the place."

dale's accident was worse cause his body sustained all the shock from his accident since he was pinned to the wall by ken schrader. (tony stewart's car broke down into pieces while sparing him much of the shock.)

this is indeed a sorry day. but, if he had to pick a way for himself to die, this wouldve been his way to go. on the track, protecting his son and long time pal from the faster car of sterling marlin in the biggest race of the season. he went out on top of his game.

(on a side note - i think bunching up the cars was a VERY BAD IDEA. 4 years ago someone (i forget the name) was flipped over the banks at talladega.)
posted by tamim at 8:57 PM on February 18, 2001

In the 1960's, they built race cars strong, so they didn't come apart during wrecks. And a lot of drivers were killed and injured. So they did some research and found that when the car comes to pieces, the energy needed to rip the pieces off comes from the collision. Also, when the pieces go flying they carry kinetic energy away from the crash.

Now the cars are designed deliberately to come apart, except for the cage around the driver. That, and a lot of other changes have resulted in a substantial drop in deaths and injuries for the drivers. Paradoxically, the worse the wreck looks, the more likely the driver is to walk away. If pieces go flying every which way, if the car rolls and tumbles, that protects the driver because it means that the deceleration is less abrupt and the driver is subjected to lower forces.

If you don't see that, then you should start worrying.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:40 PM on February 18, 2001

I was seated on the main stretch of the Texas Motor Speedway during the O'Reilly Auto Parts 400, a NASCAR Craftsman truck series race. On lap 32, Tony Roper plowed into the wall and skidded to the infield. He was killed. I was sitting right there, right at the stretch of speedway the accident happened. I saw the entire thing. I watched a man get killed, right there on the track. Something like that chills you to the bone. Seeing Dale Earnhardt, a true living legend, die on the final lap of the biggest race in NASCAR, defending his friend and his son from the competitors, gave me that same feeling.

There are some quotes from the incredible '60s film "Grand Prix," directed by John Frankenheimer and starring James Garner, that is spoken during the opening sequence at the treacherous Monoco race:

"I used to think nothing could be better than motorbike racing. Three times I am a world champion on my motorbike. I am happy. Then I go into one of these; this course, you sit in a box, a coffin, gasoline all around you. It is like being inside a bomb. Crazy, but of course the cars are faster. That is the most important thing."

"Danger? Well, of course. But you are missing a very important point. I think if any of us imagined, really imagined, what it would be like to go into a tree at 150 miles per hour, we would probably never get into the cars at all. None of us. So, it has always seemed to me that to do something very dangerous requires a certain absence of imagination!"

Here's to those daring drivers and their machines, some of the bravest folks on the planet.
posted by Spirit_VW at 10:20 PM on February 18, 2001

I can empathise with you guys, as this is just how I felt when I saw Senna die, and when I was really worried about Michael Schumacher right after his terrible crash '99. My heart skipped a few beats during those accidents.

R.I.P Dale Earnhardt
posted by riffola at 10:59 PM on February 18, 2001

I'm not a NASCAR fan - but I am a fan of motorsports in general and in particular Formula One and CART.

I'd like very much to pass my condolences to those who knew, and supported Dale. As I said, I wasn't a NASCAR fan, but I always knew who he was.

I remember when my own boyhood idol, F1 driver Ayrton Senna died at Imola in 1994. I was in shock, having watched him die right in front my eyes on TV. It was a huge shock. One of the first people I remember expressing his condolences was Dale. I never forgot that.

I don't watcha lot of field sport. Motor racing is what I choose to follow. I hate it when it's like this. But at the same time, I expect it to be like this. As it says on the back of every single ticket I have ever purchased to a motor race "Motorsport is dangerous". At the same time though, I think it's important to remember that Dale accepted the possibility that he might die in his car - it is an inherent risk in the sport, one that all drivers are prepared for.

RIP Dale Earnhardt.

posted by tomcosgrave at 5:19 AM on February 19, 2001

I am also not a big follower of NASCAR but I've always liked Dale Earnhardt -- he just seemed like a "nice guy" who was a good representative of his sport, and I was terribly sad to hear of his death.

The wreck itself didn't look bad, but I think that's partially because we're all so used to seeing them go so fast that we've lost perspective on exactly how fast they're really going. He hit that wall at 180 mph. I've had fender-benders at 45 mph that rattled my cage, so I can only imagine the trauma to a human body at speeds so much higher.

RIP Dale. :-(

posted by shauna at 6:23 AM on February 19, 2001

Thanks to Steven for the interesting facts about the construction of race cars -- I had no idea. I don't follow auto racing at all, but 'Earnhardt' was the name that immediately sprang to mind whenever I heard the sport mentioned in any vein.

I'll echo the sentiments expressed that it's sadly appropriate that he died doing something he loved so much, going the 180mph+ and helping his son get an edge on the race, rather than in a more comparatively ironic situation like a traffic accident.
posted by evixir at 7:11 AM on February 19, 2001

I think it's important to remember that Dale accepted the possibility that he might die in his car - it is an inherent risk in the sport, one that all drivers are prepared for.

Absolutely. My dad's an airline pilot (and before that, he flew military fighter jets for 20 years) and whenever he's asked if he's worried about crashing, he says, "I'm a lot more likely to die in a car accident. That doesn't keep me from driving."

And then I always have to be a smart-aleck and remind him no one ever fell 30,000 feet out of a Toyota. ;-)
posted by shauna at 7:17 AM on February 19, 2001

I'm the world's biggest Nascar anti-fan but this was a sad thing. My heart definitely goes out to the family, but I suppose it was something that they were more keenly prepared for than the world in general. I hope that somewhere in the tragedy there is something that brings them comfort.
posted by Dreama at 7:37 AM on February 19, 2001

AMEN evixir...how many can say that (not litterally of course) that they died doing what they loved?

shauna..my father flew Chinooks for 20 years in the Army and I remember as a little girl listening to pilots who flew other typs of aircraft tell me that my father was a brave man and how they would NEVER fly a Chinook because of the "danger" envolved. Things like that make you realize that certain types of people have passions for living on the edge and do thier jobs out ouf pure love for them.

Dale Earnhardt continually set the standard in stock car racing. Lord knows he wasn't perfect and thats what made him a credit to the sport. He did his job better than anyone else and taught others to do the same. He lived his life the way HE wanted to and never apologized for it. He helped better the lives of many people although he never wanted the public to know it. That was Dale Earnhardt.

I send prayers and condolences to Dale Earhardt's family, friends and all members and fans of the NASCAR family. Its everyone's loss.
posted by Princess Buttercup at 7:38 AM on February 19, 2001

I've never really had more than a passing interest in NASCAR, or any racing for that matter. Occassionally, I'd catch a few laps of Indy or Daytona. But I have long since picked Dale Earnhardt as my favorite, the one I would root for and follow. I remember that I didn't realize how big he really was in racing. I thought I had picked something of an underdog. hehehe

But Dale was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR. His recognition had transcended his sport.

Most of all, I think I could tell from seeing him talk in clips throughout that first race I watched that he was a good man. I don't know why watching him on TV gives me any right to say so. In fact, I despise that idea, but I think it must show when you are that good, honest, kind and generous. It just shows. It can't be faked or hidden.

I completely missed the race yesterday. I don't know if that was good or bad. I suppose I would have like to see him race one more time as it happened.

I didn't find out until late last night. I think I'm still in shock. I just can't believe it when I see the news online. It's so surreal.

In any case, he's in the real victory lane now.

We'll miss you, Dale.
posted by abosio at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2001

I always thought my daughter cheered him on just to annoy my husband, who generally prefers another team. You know... half the fun being heckling opposing fans and all that...

When I first married my husband I couldn't see what all the fuss was about but it's been fun watching the sport grow in popularity over the past several years- and the first race of the year is like a harbinger of spring or something. There's nothing like catnapping to the roar of engines on Sunday afternoon and I realized just how popular it's become when my seven year old bursted into tears last night.

What a sad sad start to the season... it just won't be the same for a long time : (
posted by auntbunny at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2001

I've been watching NASCAR avidly for 3 years, and have seen the hundreds of televised crashes, which add to the drama and appeal of the sport. When the drivers climbed out of their wrecked cars and were interviewed, they always said "That's racing, we'll get 'em next week" Adam Petty's death last year, of similar injuries, shocked the NASCAR world, and made us remember that a crash might mean no next week.

It doesn't matter how thick the roll cage is, nor how well-designed the crush-zones and saftey seat is, a human body decelerating at that speed can't survive the injuries.

Earnhardt, a master of the track track he died on, constantly amazed other drivers and spectactors with his ability to control his car when it started to get into trouble. Such a death reminds us that doing dangerous things will kill you, even if you're the best at it.

I know I'm going to go a little easier on the highways.

posted by PMcCann at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2001

I grew up around racetracks, stock and funny cars, and my boyfriend was his father's crew chief in the All-American tour. Ken Schrader is a friend of his family's, and when the reporters cornered him after he'd been to Earnhardt's car, my boyfriend turned to me and said "I don't know what's happening, but this isn't good. I've never seen Schrader this upset, not like this." I watched the ambulance drive away, and thought "Why are they going so slowly?"

We've been talking about this all night. I remembered something, remembered the Talladega wreck a few years ago, when Earnhardt wouldn't allow anyone to help him out of the car (he had broken his sternum), and tried to walk away. He fell twice before he would allow anyone to help him. There was only one other wreck in his career that he did not walk away from.

You don't see men like that very often. I never thought I could find beauty in people willingly participating in a sport that would most likely kill them, but that race yesterday was a beautiful thing. And Earnhardt died a hero's death, the kind of death that will only make his legend grow.

As a side note, before we knew anything had happened to Earnhardt (beside's my boyfriend's face when he hit the wall - "those are the kind of wrecks that kill you = you want to see the car come apart and dissipate energy, otherwise it all goes into the driver's body") I was crying for the Waltrips - wasn't that a gorgeous moment, when Michael won and Dale just burst into tears. God. You never see love like that in other sports. It's just beautiful.
posted by annathea at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2001

If you can load the site, the Daytona Beach News-Journal has a lot of great coverage today.

One unexpected find: A picture before the race of Earnhardt talking to Kyle Petty about the death of his son Adam.
posted by rcade at 11:53 AM on February 19, 2001

annathea...I couldn't have put it better if I wanted to. Inside the sport he was a fierce competitor. Outside the sport he was a wonderful man. It doesn't get much better than that for a good old southern boy.

As for the Waltrips...I watched the Winner's Circle interviews and such and it felt like we were listening in on a private conversation between the brothers in the midst of all those people. Brothers, father-sons etc in NASCAR are exceptionally close and that was proof. DW couldn't have been more happy or proud than he was at that moment for his brother. I dare say more than most of his personal wins even. The love and pride was more than evident.
posted by Princess Buttercup at 12:26 PM on February 19, 2001

According to ESPN today, Earnhardt wasn't intentionally hanging back to help his son or Waltrip win the race. His last words to his crew, which were picked up by a scanner, expressed displeasure that they were not helping him win.
posted by rcade at 12:46 PM on February 19, 2001

Here's a comment from someone who was at Daytona, watching his first NASCAR race.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:15 PM on February 19, 2001

rcade - it seemed to me that him and Park were trying to hold off the pack so that the four of them (Waltrip, Dale Jr., Park and Earnhardt) could race for it on the last stretch. I don't for a second think that he'd have forfeited a good race to help someone else win (something that was further proved to me in the great IROC race that he and Dale Jr. raced in, when they were bumping and tapping the whole time. That was a fun race to watch) regardless of who that someone was.

I guess that's why they called him the Intimidator.
posted by annathea at 4:22 PM on February 19, 2001

Bummer, man.
posted by gleemax at 5:01 PM on February 20, 2001

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