Treasure Lost

4 | 31

Prompt: What is a treasure that’s been lost?

Today is day 4 of the WordPress #bloganuary challenge.

Pass In The Grass

Down here in the south, our tea is sweetened with real cane sugar, our BBQ is vinegar based (depending on what side of the line you’re on), our chicken and pickles are fried, our vowels are drawn’, and we all know who The Intimidator was that drove the 3.

Iron head, The Intimidator, and The Man In Black can all justifiably refer to Dale Earnhardt. 🏁

It was the 1987 Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Earnhardt never lifted off the throttle and set up what is known for the “pass in the grass” on Bill Elliot. The image I made on 10/30/2010 that is featured atop this page is the very location I’m referencing.

I just held onto her.

-Dale Earnhardt

Notably -it really wasn’t a “Pass In The Grass.” Earnhardt had the lead over Elliot and Elliot moved him down there. Headed off into turn one -Earnhardt was still leading the pack without Toro’s sponsorship.
Just like that! -it became known and continues to stand the test of time as the “Pass In The Grass” and Earnhardt’s career grew faster than a hot knife through butter.

Victory Lane

In 1998 -eleven years removed from the “Pass In The Grass,” I celebrated late into the night with Dale Earnhardt’s first Daytona 500 win after 20 years of trying. I gave a chuckle as the caution and white flags flew simultaneously. By the time he traveled the 2.5-mile-high banked oval to get the checkers, I was crying.

Even watching this today 1/4/2023 -I get chicken skin arms and a lump in my throat.

That was 98! 

Jeff Gordon Dupont Chevy | 1999 Daytona Winner
©Matt Crace 11/25/14

Much like Dale Earnhardt, you either love Jeff Gordon and his Rainbow Warriors or you hated ’em. I fell in the latter. Pulling for Dale Earnhardt and that infamous black number 3, I hated this car!

In 1999, I would add some colorful language as the Rainbow Warrior held Dale Earnhardt off to win his second 500. 

The winning car of The Daytona 500 is kept at the track and on display for a year. My colorful language was interrupted with a chuckle when Earnhardt gave Gordon a “love tap” soon after crossing the finish line. That donut is still on this very car and anyone that has ever seen this car knows who put it there.

Earnhardt’s post-race interview was classic Earnhardt. One line “got beat”.

Those were some good times! I was fortunate to see them run at Daytona, Charlotte, Rockingham, and my favorite short track in Martinsville VA.

Treasure Lost

Dale Earnhardt would eventually turn a career into a legacy after 26 years of full-throttle, turning left, sponsorship-endorsed employment. 76 Winston Cup checkers -most notably the 1998 Daytona 500, and Seven Winston Cup Championships.

Earnhardt in his young career was known for doing it himself -so it came as no surprise his off-track success would be in a shop. DEI housed three competitive teams during the late ’90s and early 2000s. One of those was Dale Jr. driver of the Budweiser 8.

February 18, 2001, at The Daytona International Speedway, a father’s pride was being broadcast to millions of viewers and a packed house. Dale Jr. was battling his team Michael Waltrip for the win and Earnhardt was just a few cars back watching it unfold. On the last lap with a full head of steam between turns 3 and 4 -the black number 3 that was blocking for his boy was tapped and sailed off head-on into the wall.

Michael Waltrip was the first to the checkers -Dale Jr finished second and immediately headed for the infield care center. The television went back and forth from victory lanes jubilation to the somber turn 4 where rescue crews attended one of the greatest race car drivers to ever live.

I’ll never forget my stomach being knotted up, waiting and pacing, to finally hear Mike Helton address the media with: “We’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”

Dale Earnhardt was a National Treasure and his loss was so much more than just losing a race car driver. The changes to NASCAR and its safety now push the barriers because of Earnhardt’s untimely tragic death. They pursue every avenue of safety and implement it.

Dale Earnhardt -The Intimidator, April 29, 1951 – February 18, 2001.

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