While we're in the midst of Chase preparations, it's right and proper that NASCAR has taken time to remember the tragedies of September 11. Over the last few weeks, several NASCAR drivers recounted their memories of 9/11, the days afterward and the days going forward.
We were in the air when the first plane hit the tower, flying from Daytona to Concord. I was flying in my plane. We had just gotten out of the plane and were walking inside to get our car when we heard what had happened. Of course there was a lot of confusion for the first hour after it happened. What I remember about it was not really knowing exactly what was going on. And then, obviously, we kept our rental car. We finished our business that afternoon and drove back to Daytona because all of the planes were grounded. There were three of us. Four went up, but my pilot stayed with the plane. The other three drove home to Daytona.
I didn't watch a lot of the news. It was such a tragic time. A time of great uncertainty. We had other things on our mind as well, with racing. We were bouncing back and forth between what was really happening in our country and what was going on immediately in front of us.
I remember the morning of Sept. 11 waking up to a phone call, somebody said, "You need to turn the news on." I said, "Which news?" They go, "Doesn't matter." And you realize really quickly why it didn't matter, because every channel had it on. But I was laying in bed, and I never got out of bed till six in the evening watching what was happening in disbelief, just could not believe what we were seeing, and that our country had come under attack like that. It's something that in my lifetime I'd never seen before.
I'll always in the morning pop the Today show on and watch, and when the first plane hit I was at my house getting ready to leave for the gym and saw it and was left with the impression as I was walking out the door, there was confusion, so I was left with the impression that it was accidental plane crash and they were looking into it and really didn't know what was going on at that point.
So I hopped in my truck, drove over to the gym and walked into the lobby of the gym and as I walked in I'm walking by the televisions at the check-in desk and people are gathered around and literally watched the second plane strike live on TV. At that point, clearly knew — everybody I think watching knew that it was more than an accidental plane crash. My heart sunk and fear ran through my veins at that point not knowing what's going on, what to expect, but under the impression that it clearly was a terrorist attack, and stood there in the lobby for — I don't think I even worked out — I just stood there in total shock for an hour or more with the other members of the gym and just watched things unfold on TV."
(Brian France became chairman and CEO of NASCAR in 2003, a role his father held on Sept. 11, 2001):
We were scheduled to race at New Hampshire that next weekend. We got together as a group and first and foremost, we knew we had to show respect and memorialize those thousands of people who had lost their lives and the sacrifices made by the first responders and all of the law enforcement, fire and safety, military and emergency personnel that were so closely involved.
I recall my father recounting tragic events that had taken place over the course of his lifetime, such as Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, and how decisions were influenced by those events. We knew in our hearts the best decision was to postpone our race and reschedule it for a later date. The country needed some time to grieve and to heal. When we went back to racing the following week at Dover, there was a real sense of appreciation leading up to the event. We felt proud to have the opportunity to participate in our sport and I really believe the industry came together. We were all one voice in paying tribute to the victims and we celebrated our freedom of being Americans.
I was at the University of Missouri in Columbia. I remember they set up a TV in the commons area so we could watch coverage. Once I, along with everyone else, realized what was going on, the fear was, 'What's next? What's going to happen the rest of the day?'
They shut the airspace down to all traffic for a number of days. I remember driving a set of wheels and tires back to a guy up in the middle of nowhere in the country in Missouri. It was a really beautiful day. I saw one plane go over, and realized it must be a military plane. I remember thinking, 'They had this much of an impact on the whole country.'
There were a lot of effects, and it's hard to understand the whole cause. We end up in wars with people, and enacting new laws, and giving new powers to the government, and costing us all huge amounts of money to deal with addressing everything that's a result of that. In the end, we'll probably look back on this whole time period and see that this was a multi-headed monster. Who knows what that one day set in motion?
I had taken my daughter to school and was listening to the radio as it came on. I went home and was at home when the towers fell. I was pissed. I wanted revenge right then and there. And then I wanted us to race. I didn't want them to cancel the [New Hampshire] race. I wanted to show the world that they couldn't keep us from doing what we were going to do, although I did understand why people didn't want to race.
It was an inspiring weekend [when racing returned at Dover]--the flyover, the National Anthem, the fans, the "U-S-A." We've not only lost touch [with that feeling], it seems like we've forgotten it. To see how divided our country is today is really disappointing and sad. We need to all have some accountability. We talk a lot about Washington, but WE need to quit dividing. It's OK to disagree, that's what makes us a great country. But my God, do we have to be so ugly about it?
— As told to Yahoo! Sports NASCAR editor Jay Hart and Yahoo! Sports' From The Marbles editor Jay Busbee