The Legend This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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February 18, 2001 was one of the most anticipated days of my life: I would watch the 43rd running of the Daytona 500 and that night attend a Toby Keith concert. It turned out to be the worst day.

In my grandparents’ living room, my friend Stacy asked how I could sit for three hours and watch a race. “I would get so bored,” she said. I replied with the speech I give every person who asks me that question: “Take 43 cars going 200 miles an hour, bumper to bumper, on banked turns, and on every corner and straightaway you are praying that you live to see the next. Tell me how that is not exciting.” She just shook her head.

Later, as we watched, the announcer said there were just two laps left. The white flag flew and I witnessed a horrifying wreck. Dale Earnhardt and Ken Schrader were in the wall. My attention was focused on the wreck, not the checkered flag. “This is not good,” I said. I kept repeating that until we had to leave for the concert. I had a feeling in the bottom of my stomach that racing would never be the same.

The image of the wreck stuck in my mind all night. Was Dale okay? Would he be able to race again? How were his son (who was also in the race) and family?

I found out the answer while standing at the T-shirt booth before the concert. A man in a Dale Earnhardt hat told me - he was gone. All through the concert three things stayed in my mind: the Earnhardt family praying before the race, the wreck and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. running to his father’s car. I tried to conceal my tears for the sake of my friends, but I think they knew. And for the first time, I think they understood how close the racing community is and what it means to us.

The following week was the longest of my 15 years on Earth. With every newspaper article, tribute and news report, every glimpse of the memorial service and shrine, I cried. Many thought this was odd - I am a Jeff Gordon fan and hated Dale Earnhardt. He wasn’t called “The Intimidator” for nothing, though even when I cheered against him, I respected him, as did every race fan. Even though I never admitted it while he was alive, he made NASCAR what it is today.

In the days after the wreck, I waited for the announcement that it was a mistake and he was all right. Dale Earnhardt was “The Man in Black,” “The Intimidator.” Dale Earnhardt was invincible. But the announcement never came.

What did come was the question of safety and whether or not to run the race at Rockingham so soon after. Drivers risk their lives in every turn and straightaway. Every driver, true fan, crew chief and pit member knows that. Every Sunday we race; Dale did. Not running Rockingham was out of the question. Dale Jarrett put it very well when he said, “This is what we do. We go racing.” And with that in mind, the green flag dropped at Rockingham and the real healing process began.

Someone once said, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” NASCAR’s greatest driver will never die. He is with us through every corner, win or lose. Dale Earnhardt is a true

legend.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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