BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
The news sent shockwaves through America and grief through the sport of racing. Where were you the day we lost Dale Earnhardt, Sr? Like the passing of Coach Bryant or a loving family member, you will never forget that moment fourteen years ago today. As race fans celebrated Michael Waltrip's Daytona 500 win on February 18th, 2001, concern suddenly shifted to the 3-car that had slammed into the outside wall on the final lap of the race. To this day you remember seeing Dale Earnhardt, Jr frantically following medical staff to a nearby hospital to be with his father. You remember NASCAR President Mike Helton later announcing, "We have lost Dale Earnhardt". You remember the shock of it all, trying not to believe the man considered one of the greatest race driver of all time had lost his life at the age of 49.
We here in the great state of Alabama remember losing some of own racing greats. I can never forget sitting in the corner of my News Director's office on July 13, 1993: My friend Davey Allison had just died, and my boss asked me if my mind was right to cover the story. I told her "yes", but I can come clean today by saying that I really wasn't there. After all, Davey's brother Clifford had died less than a year earlier (August 13, 1992). Less than seven months later on February 11, 1994 we lost Neil Bonnett. Neil died during a practice run at Daytona, and seven years later his best friend Dale, Sr would die at the same track.
That span of 18 months when the famous members of the Alabama Gang left us is still a bit of a blur. To witness firsthand Bobby and Judy Allison's grief as they lost their only two sons less than a year apart. To see Liz, Robbie and Krista Allison's grief, Elisa Allison's pain, and Susan Bonnett's courage. To see Red Farmer continue to race while never forgetting his buddies. Even today it's hard to fathom and even harder to digest.
Two memories of Dale Earnhardt, Sr remain strongly with me today. You see, Earnhardt's final victory was at Talladega in the fall of 2000. I was fortunate to have Earnhardt, Sr join me in victory lane about an hour after his win for a taped interview. My visiting sister-in-law was invited to meet Earnhardt during that interview. As she bent forward, Earnhardt took out a Sharpie and signed an autograph on the back of her white shirt big enough to be seen from yards away. Her response? "Oh, My Gosh." Paula still cherishes that shirt to this day.
My other memory? The day after Earnhardt, Sr died, the construction crew that was re-bricking my house arrived for work. The lead worker was and is the biggest Earnhardt fan out there. As I met him at the door, he told me with tears in his eyes that while he was devastated, he was still reporting for work. And his way of showing respect to the race driver he loved? As workers poured cement around my house, he made sure to carve the number 3 in numerous areas of the foundation. A day later the bricks went up, and to this day, several 3's are carved under the bricks around that house.
Thanks in part to those construction workers, Dale Earnhardt, Sr will always remain with me. Each and every February 18th I get a chuckle out of those 3's carved around the house, yet at the same time I am reminded how much the Intimidator meant to those who loved him. Where were you fourteen years ago today? I bet you remember.