Tums Fast Relief 500 - October 30, 2011 - Martinsville Speedway

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembering a Legend…My Dad

We're excited to have Racegirl back with us for the start of another exciting NASCAR season!  This week Racegirl shares her thoughts on the tribute to Dale Earnhardt during yesterday's Daytona 500 and pays tribute to an important person in her own life - her dad.

Here's Racegirl:

At the 53rd running of the Daytona 500, fans celebrated Dale Earnhardt’s career by remaining silent during the third lap of the race. Commemorative No. 3 decals were found on all of Richard Childress Racing race cars and trucks, transporters and pit boxes. Fans sported #3 t-shirts, hats, banners and flags recognizing the man we all feel changed the sport of NASCAR.

“All of us at RCR and ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing) are honored to pay tribute to Dale on this 10th anniversary,” Childress said. “His legacy is still felt every day at RCR, ECR and throughout the world. We hope all of Dale’s fans appreciate this salute to their hero and ours.”

Everyone that participated in the celebration clearly admired and respected Earnhardt — as a family man, a leader in the garage area and a driver. They honored his role in the sport and celebrated his life — and once more realized just how large of a hole he left — both personally and in NASCAR.

On Friday, Kelley Earnhardt released  photos of her Dad, Dale Jr. and herself on JRM’s website (jrmracing.com). The memories she shared were of her Dad’s life, which racing was only a small part of.

After watching the video and reading all the tribute articles in the various sports publications, I could not help but reflect back to my own memories of my legendary Dad. 

Although my Dad was not a celebrity to the NASCAR Nation, he was my hero and shared similar attributes that Dale Earnhardt displayed in life.

Dale Earnhardt was a larger-than-life figure who won seven Cup championships and 76 races in NASCAR’s foremost series.

My Dad was a larger-than-life figure who built a stone cabin with very little help from technology, a brick home that even a wolf could not blow down, and several Soap Box Derby cars, one going to the winner’s circle.

Dale Earnhardt was the Intimidator. This nickname was given to him because he was the most intensely competitive driver who has ever sat behind the wheel of a race car.  He would do whatever was necessary to win a race, even if it meant knocking an off-the-track friend into the fence.  Earnhardt would always apologize—later. 

My Dad was my Intimidator.  At least he was when you were caught doing something you know you should not have been doing. For example, something as simple as taking the go-cart out on the main road without him in the passenger’s seat would bring out the best in my Intimidator! “But Dad, it was only a short ride,” I would say. Let’s just say I was not lucky enough to ever get an apology.

Dale Earnhardt was a generous man. There are hundreds of stories about Earnhardt helping family, friends, neighbors and strangers in need. Most of those stories have never been told, because Earnhardt wanted it that way. 

My Dad was a generous man. I saw him give our spare set of Soap Box Derby wheel’s to a competitor, during a race, who later went on to beat me in a semi-final heat using our spare wheels!

Dale Earnhardt was the driver who had tears in his eyes when he climbed from his car at Indianapolis in 1996, turning it over to relief driver Mike Skinner. Earnhardt had fractured his sternum and collarbone in a violent wreck at Talladega and could not continue at the Brickyard. After getting out of the car Earnhardt choked out the words, “This is tough—racing’s my life.”

My Dad was in a head-on collision with a dump truck while driving his work truck. His back was broken. He returned to work after a few months of rehabilitation, but never completely recovered from the injury. I remember seeing him sleeping on the hard floor just to give his back some relief.  When he went off to work after only a few hours of sleep, he said, “I have people depending on me doing my job, so they can do their own job and support their families.” He retired from this same job after 40 years of service, rarely missing a day of work.

Dale Earnhardt was slow to trust anyone. When you earned Earnhardt’s trust, however, you earned his friendship, and that was just as unwavering as his desire to win.

My Dad was slow to trust anyone. When you did earn his trust, he never turned his back on you, even if it meant sacrificing his own public image.

The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 was a day of triumphant memories of Dale Earnhardt’s life. This is the way I prefer to remember him. What Earnhardt meant to the sport will always be reflected in the recognition and admiration he created in his rivals as well as his friends and family. 

Although this day is not an ‘anniversary’ of my own Dad’s passing, a day does not go by that I do not give tribute to his life. And although video tapes of his accomplishments won't be playing in the media, I have my own ‘videos’ in my vault, my heart.

This is how I prefer to remember my Dad………

Until next time....Happy Racing!