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NASCAR Hasn’t Been the Same Since Passing of Dale Earnhardt

A fan signs a memorial to Dale Earnhardt (Getty Images)

It’s a sport I had grown to love since, well, as long as I can remember.  And it might be the only sport where the biggest event of the season is the first one – the Daytona 500.  I’d been watching the 500 on TV every year since I was a kid and it was an incredible thrill when I got to see the Daytona 500 for the first time in person.  What an event!  But since the passing of Dale Earnhardt the  sport just doesn’t seem to be the same.  I’ve seen some exciting races and the Chase for the Sprint Cup is a good gimmick, but the personality, the passion, the ability of Dale Earnhardt has never been replaced. 

What are the chances that the sport’s biggest star would be killed in the sport’s biggest event?  It’s been a decade since Earnhardt died on  the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.  Michael Waltrip won the race just edging out Dale Earnhardt, Junior in cars that Earnhardt owned.  Earlier this week I was looking at video of that race and it’s still hard to believe that crash took his life.

As Speed Weeks at Daytona got underway yesterday Earnhardt was one of the big topics and Waltrip commented “that race was a quarter of a mile from maybe being the best Daytona 500 ever.  It was an amazing race.  It had everything: an upset winner, Dale battling those guys.  Instead, it’s the worst race ever.  You won’t ever see that race in the greatest races in Daytona history.  It’s the worst.  I live with that.  I’m the winner of that race.  I’m not here to celebrate that.  I’m here to honor Dale.”  

I’ll never forget going online a few hours after the end of the race and there it was in big headlines:  Dale Earnhardt Killed at Daytona.  I just sat there stunned as was the rest of the racing world.  Since that day, SAFER barriers have been installed at tracks, head and neck restraints have become mandatory.  They even built new cars with driver safety in mind.  But a piece of the sport died with Earnhardt that day and it just has never been the same.

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