Carol Jane Remsburg
Last Sunday night the phone rang. It was my sister from Florida calling and when she mentioned in passing that Dale Earnhart had died in the crash on that last lap of the Daytona 500—everything stopped.
My husband, an avid race fan, had used that magical device of his, the remote, and flipped the channels after the race was over. He'd seen the crash but hadn't realized the impact had caused Dale Earnhart's demise. The TV just rolled on.
This had been one race I didn't watch other than to stroll in and out of the living room. Of most sports, I do like racing best but last Sunday I had other things to get accomplished and hadn't been there to view it and spar with my husband over his favorite racer—Bill Elliott. Years back, my favorite racer was Cale Yarbourgh. He's a burly, compact man just built for racing fast cars with a jovial smile that masked his steely determination to win. Cale was nothing if not dedicated to the sport. Then Cale retired and I couldn't decide who to root for. With so many good ol' boys, it is hard to choose. However, we normally choose with our hearts. Earnhart eventually stole mine.
It wasn't because they called him "The Intimidator," it was just because Dale was being Dale. He drove hard and he drove to win. He was never out to hurt anyone but would take any opening as the opportunity it was. Hell, I used to drive that way but with everyone else on the roads acting like they were evacuating in the face of a pending nuclear blast, I've had to back off in recent years . . . but oh, how I remember the days when I literally tailgated the devil out of folks just to make them move over and get the hell out of my way. Dale did it, but he had the finesse that made him the pro he was. Dale also did these things at speeds that would frighten the rest of us wannabes into an early grave.
Dale was intense, handsome by any woman's standard with a heart breaker of a smile, and still managed to be one of the guys. Yep, Dale had it all together right up until that damned seatbelt failed him.
I've seen the many others pass on whether in crashes or other mishaps. I don't discount their loss at all, but I have to admit that Dale Earnhart's death was a blow to me. Over the last seven days there have been many tributes to him and death threats toward his racing partners. The tributes were right and true and beautifully arranged. The threats were wrong, badly wrong. And then there's that question over suspending racing in honor of Dale. Believe me, and I never even met the man, he'd be mad over that—he just would. Any NASCAR race fan, no matter how rabid or lukewarm a fan, knows it.
Dale Earnhart wasn't merely a man that raced, he wasn't a machine, he was a man—a good man. He died as he lived. Our small blessing was that he didn't suffer; our lament is that his time with us was so brief. The truly sad part is that in losing Dale Earnhart this way it finished the making of his legend.
Thus I ask, go ahead an honor the legend, but remember the man. Remember his wife, his kids, and know he was as real as you and I. Death on our doorstep is never pretty, never pleasant, but always real. Be sure also to remember that for our time is limited. In that way, each of us might try a little harder each day to prove our own worth and our caring. I think Dale might have liked that part.