I was his biggest fan. Well, one of his biggest. When we lost him I walked away from the sport.
Over the years I wrote about him and that helped.
Whenever I saw a program about his life and career I would wind up weeping. I was compelled to watch and I watched it all. Movies, interviews, documentaries, specials were all watched, taped, saved and purchased.
Eventually, after a six-year, self-imposed break, I was pulled back into the sport. It was a tough transition and I found I had no one to root for that I felt passionately.
I still wrote; I wrote about NASCAR and about him.
I found that I could embrace the sport easily if I was merely a fan of NASCAR itself and not concern myself personally with individual drivers. This allowed for a lack of bias that strengthened my effectiveness as a writer.
Still, my heart was heavy and my willingness to let go staunch.
He was not so much my hero although I loved his heroism. It was the fact he was revered by so many. For moments in his life he seemed not only incredibly talented but also invincible. I saw him walk away from a horrendous crash in Talladega and put his car on the pole at Watkins Glen the very next weekend.
Except, he wasn’t.
When he died I was incredulous. How could he be taken?
The NASCAR Nation mourned collectively.
We took cues from point man Darrell Waltrip who showed we could cry whenever the mood struck. DW also showed us we could keep going; life didn’t stop for the rest of us.
NASCAR kept moving. The fans cheered for his son. I was despondent; nobody was him.
I took a hiatus that I thought might last forever. But, seeing my husband’s passion for the sport we had once shared continue without me, I realized I better make a move to regain that connection. All too often spouses grow apart; I didn’t want to be a statistic. I love my husband far too much.
Watching races wasn’t high on my list of priorities, but I listened to pre- and post-race programming. I learned the new cast of characters’ names, memorized car numbers in relation to drivers’ names, and tried to stay current with who was running well in the NCWTS and NNS, the future stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
I courted Tony Stewart in 2008, but broke up with him as my driver before the year was over. My boys became fans of Jeff Gordon who I always liked from the time he ascended to Cup, but he wasn’t my driver.
Over the years I realized that I am a “fan” of any driver at the top level – NCWTS, NNS, or Sprint Cup – who has the potential to win at any given race. I admire the level at which they perform and what it took to reach this pinnacle of their career.
Now I enjoy writing about all NASCAR topics, from the era in which I began watching (1990), to the distant past, to the present.
And I was finally able to let him go last year, the 10th anniversary of his death. I could finally lay him to rest.
Sure I still miss him, will watch specials about him, and smile wistfully when I see his black No.3 Goodwrench Chevy, but I’m ready to face a future without him.
It’s long past time.
So I close the chapter of Dale Earnhardt as I smile bravely into the horizon. NASCAR has become a huge fabric in my life. Earnhardt will always have a place in my heart, but now I need to move on entirely.
It’s time to let go of Dale.