The Big One
I turned on the TV Sunday afternoon just in time to see the "Big One". I figured the race would be nearing the end and wanted to see if my driver of choice was in a position to win another race at Daytona. I'm sure Fox was hoping for the "Big One" that day. Everyone felt that this would be a "500 to remember". I think in their own way most fans wait for the "Big One". As I watched the 18 or so cars flipping and sliding around on the track I felt a bit of relief watching the old black #3 car make it through just ahead of the pileup. We saw what looked like the worst wreck of the day and Tony Stewart walked away after flying through air and even catching a ride on another car for a while. We had a great deal of excitement, knocked some cars out of the race, got plenty of sponsor time and every driver was just fine. That's the way everyone likes it, drivers walk away smiling and ready to go again next week.
When the race resumed I felt that Old #3 was in a great position to win the "Big One" of NASCAR for a second time in his career. With a couple of laps left, the scenario played out in my mind with the 2 Dale's fighting for the win. I'll admit, I figured Big Dale might give his son a little love tap in turn 4 and drive around him for the win. It seemed like a very real possibility. On the last lap I realized the best #3 could hope for was finishing 3rd. I remember thinking that at least 2 of his cars would finish first and second. Not too shabby, a 1,2,3 finish. Then on the final turn on the last lap it happened. NASCAR, Fox and the entire racing world received the "Big One" it was not prepared for and will have a very difficult time recovering from. In a routine looking wreck that drivers would normally walk away from, NASCAR lost it's biggest star of the modern mega communication era. (I would never take anything away from the Richard Petty. The King is the greatest star of the first generation.)
As Schrader's car came to rest beside Dale's we watched Ken motion for rescue workers to hurry along. The first true indication we received as to the grave outcome of the accident was when reporter's talked to Schrader and his comment was simply "I'm not a doctor". Fox ended coverage with basically no update so I started searching the Internet for information. I had the worst feeling something was wrong, even though the wreck looked mostly harmless. At around 6:30, I found confirmation on Yahoo. At 7:00 NASCAR had the press conference to inform everyone that Dale had passed away. We were told that he had a broken left foot, left ribs and skull fracture with no external injuries by Dr. Bohannon. He did mention that they had found blood in Dale's ear and throat. Dr Bohannon was also quick to let us know that a HANS device or a full face helmet in his opinion would not have increased the survivability chances. After the press conference I'm still sitting there watching the wreck wondering how NASCAR's toughest driver died in that wreck. I later found out that one of the home shopping networks was the first to break the news and was offering viewers Dale merchandise that better be ordered quickly before it sold out.
The press was nice enough to inform us that Dale's memorial service would be held on Thursday at 11:00 and covered by Fox. A side note is that Fox was to broadcast this memorial service exclusively but due to enormous pressure they did allow a few other networks to cover the service. I guess it should come as no surprise to us to see a Network that attempted to block out sponsor logos on cars whose sponsors did not buy additional advertising from Fox. Let's remember that those sponsors already shell out about 15 million dollars for an annual sponsorship.
We found out Thursday morning that Dale had already received a private service and had been laid to rest on Wednesday. I read a quote "from a family member" who said "All I can say is that I did not attend a burial service for Dale Earnhardt in Kannapolis, NC on Wednesday". I guess at this point no one is even sure if he has been buried.
On Friday the news broke nationally about the separated seat belt. Rumors of this had been circulating since Sunday night but NASCAR acknowledged it Friday. At first NASCAR refused to name the manufacturer but later confirmed it was Simpson, one of racing most trusted and respected safety equipment manufacturers. Speculation continues as to what really happened with the seat belt. All NASCAR will say is that the left lap belt is in 2 pieces. Bill Simpson of Simpson Racing released a statement after viewing the car and belt that "When properly installed, our belt's don't fail". It has been reported that Dale had ordered the belt relocated in the car before the race. Rusty Wallace has also been allowed to look the car and has indicated that the belt was incorrectly installed. NASCAR has a lot of nerve to even imply that Simpson was to blame without conclusive evidence. Bill Simpson has now had death threats from ignorant fans. I feel defensive of Simpson because Simpson seat belts saved my life. I was driving a 427 Cobra that flipped end over end at high speed and know exactly where I'd be today without those belts, Thanks Bill.
Dr Bohannon has since released a new statement to let us know that Dale probably contacted the steering wheel with his face and his jawbone was driven back into his skull. So much for the "no external injuries", and that a full-face helmet may have helped.
NASCAR has always been self policing and very secretive about accidents. The public will not stand by for deception and lies with the untimely death of NASCAR's biggest star of the modern mega communication era. Information is too accessible. You can even go view a picture of the cockpit with blood on the steering wheel released by the coroner's office. I just hope the Enquirer doesn't come up with autopsy photos….That would be too much information.
At the end of the day racing is dangerous and people die. When I turned on the TV that Sunday, I never thought that the "Big One" would be a simple little 2 car pile up in turn 4 on the last lap.