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Dale Earnhardt, 1951-2001: Fans Gather to Mourn NASCAR Legend; Autopsy Reveals Blunt Force Trauma to Head

Aired February 19, 2001 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this hour with the death of one of the biggest names in all of sports. In Dale Earnhardt's home town today, NASCAR fans gather at a makeshift memorial of flowers and souvenirs and reflect on a hero who spent much of his life in the fast lane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What brought you out here?

JEFF GERRARD, EARNHARDT FAN: Well, just to pay tribute to the greatest racer of all time. He's a legend and nobody will ever replace him, I don't believe.

Earnhardt lost control of his stock car in the final lap of yesterday's Daytona 500. At 49, he was one of just two men to ever win the Winston Cup championship seven times. The only other, Richard Petty.

Daytona is the Super Bowl of NASCAR, a sport that draws more fans than football and baseball combined. And this was supposed to be racing's finest hour.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now from the track, where the victory was immediately overshadowed by the tragedy.

Susan, what's happening there today?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou.

Well, his nickname, as you know, was the "Intimidator," known for his aggressive style on the track. And on this track alone, Dale Earnhardt won 34 times more than any other driver.

Sunday, of course, turned out to be his very last race, his car cracking into a concrete wall. He was going about 180 miles per hour. And at this hour, initial reports are in on an autopsy that was performed this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BYRON, VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA SPOKESMAN: This morning, the autopsy on Mr. Earnhardt's body was completed at about 10:20 by the Volusia County medical examiner. I have today for you the death certificate worksheet, which describes the cause of death as "blunt force injuries of the head."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Fans, many of them, who attended the race yesterday returned to the track today, leaving all kinds of mementos, including flowers and personal messages, to Dale Earnhardt and his family. Those fans now knowing that -- more details of the crash, knowing that Earnhardt was unconscious when medics got to him, that he had to be cut free from the car, and that all efforts to revive him failed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest person in NASCAR.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still in shock. I mean, this man was an icon of the sport. And this sport will never be the same; absolutely never.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Dale Earnhardt would have turned 50 years old in March. He once said that he had racing in his blood. His son Dale Jr. finished third in this race, and he says that he will carry on in memory of his father -- Lou.

WATERS: Susan Candiotti at Daytona.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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