My husband is a gear head.
He's all about cars.
Like, if he had to choose between his Wife and his Jeep, well......yeah I'm pretty sure I know how that would go down.
And if he had to choose between his Jeep and college football? I think he might ask to be cut in half. And I'm totally serious. When he was
I raised an eyebrow, but went along for the ride. I had always been a sports fan, but I had never gotten into NASCAR before. I didn't understand how it was a 'sport' and, well, it was entirely TOO R-E-D-N-E-C-K for my hifalutin, sophisticated, educated, big word using, correct grammar using itself. I was quickly educated about restrictor plates, bump drafting, free air, Boogity Boogity Boogity....
So my first NASCAR race was February 18, 2001. It was the Daytona 500. Some of you may know where this is going....
Words can't do justice to the emotions I felt (and 100,000+ other people who were THERE) on that day. Billy had been a Sr. fan from the very beginning. To say he was his idol is an understatement. On that fateful day, Billy listened to Sr.'s chatter channel while I was "assigned" Junior's. After Tony Stewart's 20 car "Big One" pile-up, all the driveable cars were required to park it on the track while the wreckage was cleared. I soon learned this is called a "red-flag". We had excellent seats on the front-stretch, directly in front of the exit from Pit Road. Dale Sr. and his son Dale Jr. were parked side by side at the very front of the pack. Not much was happening while the tow trucks and ambulances did their jobs. I had my scanner headphones on. I will never forget, as long as I live, what I heard during that red-flag. Father and son were talking to each other.
Dale Earnhardt, Sr. said, "You're doing a real good job out here today, Dale."
His son, driving in his first Daytona 500 replied, "You are too....DADDY."
I immediately took my headphones off to tell Billy what I heard. He said, "Really? That is so cool!"
As a spectating sport fan, I had never quite experienced a moment like that before. I felt as if I was eavesdropping on a private conversation, a special moment between a father and son. I felt...special. I mean, how much more "involved" could I become as a fan? That was it for me! I really was enjoying the whole experience of that very long day thus far, our drivers were running 1-2, and I heard them cheer each other on towards the end of a long, hard race.
Before the checkered flag was dropped, I became NASCAR's newest rabid fan.
After Michael Waltrip crossed the finish line to win his first ever Daytona 500 with Junior a close second, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was declared dead several hours later.
Those words that I heard on that scanner will ring in my ears forever. The way Dale Jr. said, "DADDY" actually sounded like "DIDDY" with his Carolina drawl.
My newlywed had lost his hero, or as he refers to him, "THE MAN", in a crash that looked so innocent. How could he have died when just an hour earlier there were NO fatalities nor injuries from a 20 car pile-up involving flying cars and fireballs?
But THE MAN who died? He died doing what he loved. In the presence of his wife and all of his children. Racing his own son to the finish line. Giving it all he could with all he had. Died instantly from his injuries, and did not suffer. Driving a super fast car, the man in black, number 3 for all the world to see, at his favorite and most successful track, the SuperBowl of NASCAR - the Daytona 500, surrounded by over one hundred THOUSAND fans. If there's a way to go, I'm pretty sure that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would have picked that way if he had a chance.
I learned something pretty big that week. The death of this one race car driver caused millions upon millions of grown men to sob at the news of his death,calling in sick to work because they couldn't stop crying, glued to the television screen for hours upon hours of clips such as The Pass In The Grass from the 20 plus years of Dale Earnhardt racing.
He was indeed a legend.
I wish he and I had met sooner.
But I'll always remember the conversation on the scanner. Nothing can take that experience away from me. I'm just sad that my husband didn't get to hear it first hand.