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Remembering the day Dale Earnhardt died at the 2001 Daytona 500
Racing fans have a somber 10th anniversary to observe and reflect on in February.
On February 18, 2001, racing legend Dale Earnhardt passed away at the Daytona 500 after crashing into a wall. Earnhardt was attempting to turn a corner on the last lap of the when his car slammed into the wall at 160 miles per hour. He was rushed to Halifax Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, as announced by NASCAR president Mike Helton at a press conference in the hours after the accident.
Even as a non-Nascar fan, it affected me. I only tune in to an occasional race that I either channel surf or turn the TV on to, watching for only a few minutes at a time. But thanks to ESPN, which extensively covers NASCAR, news of his death was everywhere and unavoidable. I couldn't believe it.
It was very unfortunate to lose any legend in any sport while they are, as far as I could casually tell about Earnhardt, at the top of their game. Though not quite the same, it was similar to Michael Jordan's first retirement briefly from the NBA in 1993 when he hung it up to play baseball or Barry Sanders' retirement in 1999 at the age of 30 when he was in near-perfect health and with all-time NFL rushing records in sight. Another comparison would be to MLB great Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash during an earthquake relief mission to Nicaragua in 1972 or college basketball superstar and major NBA prospect Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount in 1990.
No matter the comparison, it was easy to tell that his death had a major impact on the sport of racing as ESPN spent much of the next couple hours and the rest of the day talking about his death when he died that Sunday. I remember seeing racing fans in a major shock and disbelief as news of his death became widespread. The impact it had on his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was immeasurable in the public light, let alone what he had to be going through privately.
The bottom line is that as a sports fan, even as one that doesn't follow NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt's death shook and rocked me despite the lack emotional attachment I have to the sport. It clogged the airways of ESPN for hours on into days and devastated a whole sporting community to downright shock.
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