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Special Event

Dale Earnhardt, 1951-2001: Driver, Husband, Friend and Father

Aired February 22, 2001 - 11:00 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have a busy hour ahead, much of it devoted to a tragic death that has touched the hearts of people across the U.S.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands of people are gathering right now on a rainy day in Charlotte, North Carolina to pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt. You're looking here at a live picture here outside the church.

The man who helped make NASCAR what it is died in a crash Sunday at the Daytona 500, you should know by now.

KAGAN: And right now we're going to go ahead and toss to a Dale Earnhardt-produced production. Let's listen in.


MIKE JOY, ANCHOR, FOX TV: ... joined by Ken Squire.

This service was organized by Dale's family and close associates so that Dale's extended family, his NASCAR family, can share and achieve closure.

Moved by the spontaneous outpouring of emotional fans, the homemade memorials and the constant stream of saddened supporters pass Dale Earnhardt Inc. in Mooresville, the family has agreed to this one- time, live telecast of this service because the Earnhardts also wanted to reach out to Dale's many grieving fans to help you achieve closure and offer you a glimpse of this memorial.

KEN SQUIRE: This is going to be a little different than what television coverage usually provides. The family agreed to allow our electronic neighborhood in for this special program, so there's no fancy camera angles, no tight closeups. We are simply part of a caring congregation that's gathered here, gathered wherever people want to take a moment or two today to remember Dale Earnhardt. It is a large, loving congregation that, as we have discovered in the past two or three days, seemingly knows no boundaries whatsoever.

Let me review with you how the service will be conducted today. In this first hour here in the studio, we're going to be providing our tribute to Dale. And then we're going into the sanctuary. And at the pulpit from Motor Racing Outreach, the Rev. Dale Beaver will be taking over. And we'll follow the service with him until its conclusion, and perhaps be back after that at 1:00 with some closing thoughts here, perhaps a guest. We'll see.

JOY: Let's begin with a look at the man that you knew and loved from the grandstand and from your television set: the crusty, ornery, hard-driving Dale Earnhardt.


NARRATOR: Dale Earnhardt was born to stock car racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 1951. His father, Ralph, was a take-no- prisoners driver, the '56 NASCAR Sportsman Division champion. He earned the nickname "Iron Heart."

Their relationship was forged working on Ralph's race car. Ralph died in 1973 while working on that car. And for Dale, his father's sport wasn't just a way of life, it was life.

When Earnhardt took to the race tracks of North Carolina's Piedmont region, his natural talent was raw and unrefined. When he arrived on the Winston Cup circuit full time in '79, he reveled in his ability to ruffle the feathers of the established superstars. Earnhardt took a sport that was accustomed to a king and introduced it to an "Intimidator."

Driving for Rod Osterland (ph) in 1980, Earnhardt became the first driver to win rookie of the year and the Winston Cup in back-to- back seasons.

After a stint with legendary owner Bud Moore, Earnhardt signed on with former independent driver Richard Childress. In 1984 and '85, "Iron Head" created more wrecks than wins, but a dynasty was in the making. From 1986-'94, Earnhardt and Childress won six Winston Cups and 48 races. They won on short tracks, superspeedways, and the Flying Aces were the best pit crew in the history of the sport. Their way was rough-and-tumble, get-your-hands-dirty racing. They left competitors mad, fans thrilled, and it made them rich.

The "Man in Black" developed a fan following the sport had never seen. He copyrighted his signature and his name and earned more on annual souvenir sales than the rest of the garage area combined. His career crossed four decades, taking on the best of each racing generation: Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Wallace, Elliott, Gordon. He beat them all.

But Earnhardt's Achilles heal was always the Daytona 500. In 1990, he came within one mile of victory. He'd won more races than anyone in the history of the Big Speedway, but never the 500, until 1998. On his 20th try, the sport's biggest star finally took the sports biggest prize.

Injuries and distractions, though, have taken their toll and affected the Intimidator's winning ways. After Daytona, he didn't win again for nearly two seasons. But the arrival of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Winston Cup scene breathed new life into Dale's career. He won three races in '99, two in 2000, and succeeded his car owner, first with his son, then with former modified driver Steve Park; and last weekend with his newest hire, Michael Waltrip. This season, he'd already spoken of a record-breaking eighth title, laughed off talk of age, and came to Daytona in the best health of his life.

Three weeks ago, he and junior placed fourth in the 24 hours of Daytona, their first-ever sports car race. On Friday, his amazing save in the International Race of Champions, along with classic Earnhardt retaliation afterward, had fans on their feet again.

But on Sunday, almost within sight of the victory lane he had visited more times than any other driver, those fans were silenced. Dale Earnhardt was 49 years old.


SQUIRE: We know that he won 76 Winston Cup races, hundreds of others. We know he won seven championships, won 34 races at Daytona. But who was Dale Earnhardt? And what was that mysterious something that made him so special to so many?

We'll look into that some in this hour before we go to the knave of Calvary Church and join the service today. One thing for sure, he was a complex guy. He liked a whole lot of different things, liked all kinds of music.

I never will forget when he introduced us one night to Delbert McClinton, and Alabama was another favorite. And there were at least another half dozen that were right on the top of his list.

JOY: Sure, T. Graham Brown, Brooks & Dunn.


JOY: And Jimmy Buffett.


JOY: Jimmy Buffett came to Charlotte this Tuesday night. And I think, like many, all across America, Buffett followed Earnhardt and was influenced by what he had seen.

There's a song that Buffett rarely does in concert. And as the strains open of "Take Another Road," images of Earnhardt filled the big screen. There's a verse in that song, "follow the equator, like the old articulator, which Buffett changed to "Intimidator."

That song is about all you've heard on Charlotte radio these past couple of days. Like you to gather your thoughts as you listen to the words.


JOY: One thing about Earnhardt: every stock car fan knew his number, knew his car. Kids new his number before they could count. And everybody knew where he was on the race track. We get letters at CBS and now at FOX and all the networks: You show too much Earnhardt. You're always on Earnhardt. Why are you always showing Earnhardt?

Because everyone cared where he was. His fans cared, of course. And he had more fans arguably than anyone on the race track.

But his detractors cared also, because wherever their favorite driver was, how soon before Earnhardt caught up to them?

He once said in response to the cacophony of boos that accompanied the cheers, when he was introduced. And he got more of both than anyone. Louder cheers and louder boos. Did it bother him? And he said, If I ever walk up there and don't get any response, that will bother me.

SQUIRE: Yes, one of the fans was quoted in one of the Florida papers as saying, I cheered when he crashed. I cried when he died.

He touched people in a strange way. There was a quote from another kid that said, I liked him because he didn't put on airs. He was just a country boy.

I've always thought part of the magic of Dale Earnhardt was that he was the common man who did uncommon things. He was everybody whoever had a dream. But he was the one with a focus and concentration and strength to live out dream and take it to the greatest heights. And I think that's what a lot of racing people have trouble with, because they lost their dream when they've lost this fellow, Earnhardt.

JOY: And I think that's in many ways why he appealed so much to the collar man, the fellow who punches a timecard and goes out to a working wage, because that was him. That's his dream.

Dale Earnhardt came from humble beginnings and made so much of himself, that everyone who drives a pickup with that little number three decal in the back window said, Boy, that's the kind of guy I wish I could have been. Maybe I could have been. But since I'm here, I'm going to pull for Dale Earnhardt. He's my kind of guy.

SQUIRE: Yes. And he was the kind of guy, was that John Wayne character, that wasn't a fictitious character on the screen. This was for real.

You pull your bouts -- your belts down tight. You get your eyes as big as silver dollars, and you go for it, was one of his great lines. And that's exactly what he did.

You know, Kyle Petty years ago had such fun with many of the drivers. And he compared them all to animals. And so, we got to Earnhardt. And he said, Well, Earnhardt, he could be an armadillo. He had come armor-plated. And then he thought for a moment. And he said, No, no. Earnhardt, he would be a grizzly bear. Not one of those fake, stuffed bears in the store. I mean he would be a real grizzly bear. Indeed, he was. But he was a complex person. Yes, he was that on the race track. That's where the Intimidator came thing. And it was part of this -- it was hereditary with him. It was not given to him. That was not a manner-borne title. I was in his genes to race. That's what his father did. That's what he followed along with. That's where his friends were. That's the only thing he ever wanted to do in his whole life.

JOY: And we'll expand on that later in this hour as we talk about Dale Earnhardt the fan favorite and Dale Earnhardt the person and family man.

The 6200-seat Calvary Church is right now filling with well- wishers. Included are the Earnhardt family, 13 bus loads of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated employees, 15 bus loads of Richard Childress' racing employees driven down from Welton, North Carolina, representatives of NASCAR, a serious sponsor, R.J. Reynolds, close friends, associate sponsors, licensees and others people who were involved with the Earnhardt magic and mystic.

Earnhardt the racer. Another great racer Darrell Waltrip sat down with him just Tuesday ago in Daytona to talk to Dale Earnhardt about his racing.


DARRELL WALTRIP, RACE CAR DRIVER: You first race car. I mean, all I've ever heard was that pink thing. I never -- I thought your first race car I ever saw was that old, ugly number-8 car that you raced on dirt.

DALE EARNHARDT, RACE CAR DRIVER: It was pretty as a beige coat.

WALTRIP: That was -- it was looking about like my first race car.

EARNHARDT: Well, honestly it was my brother-in-law's race car. And he didn't drive it; he drove it for another guy. And he just parked his own car. And I talked his dad into letting me drive that car. And it was a pink '56 Ford.

WALTRIP: And had you ever driven before?

EARNHARDT: I had never driven before. My dad...

WALTRIP: But you've driven with your dad.

EARNHARDT: I grew up racing and talking to my dad about racing. But he never would let me drive.

So I drove this car. And I started running pretty good. And before long, David quit driving his car, the car he's dumped on. And he wasn't going to drive his car, so put me out of a ride.

And I was pretty distort -- you know, distorted about that. I was just really rejected, let down. And I came home from work one day, and my dad says -- and there was going to be a race car set in the driveway. And here, my dad told me, he says -- I said -- he said, That's James Miller's car out there. You can just prod it over, let's me and you go through it and check it over good and set it up. And he's going to let you run his old car.

So my dad actually got me a drive after he'd seen I was going to race. I reckon he figured, Well, I'd better give him something that he hack with safe. That's the reason my dad had called over to make sure it was safe.

WALTRIP: When you won the Daytona 500 -- and man, I was...


WALTRIP: ... I couldn't believe you won it. Godly, it's the whole thing...

EARNHARDT: You were breaking on my wood.

WALTRIP: I kept -- I kept holding onto that one thing. I said, If he just does never win the 500, I got that anyway.

But having come so close, I mean, I don't really care about the times you won it. What did -- the time that you -- the time you were in '90 when you had that thing on, I mean, you look at...

EARNHARDT: Got the tire down, run out of gas. I was -- I've been in every situation you have to lose a race. And it's just -- I mean, when I cut the tire down, I couldn't believe it. I drove around the race track, and came in the -- I came in the garage. And I just sat in the car. I couldn't believe it because we had such a dominant car.

You've been in those kinds of races. All of us have. And but it was just a tremendous feeling to win it after so many years of defeat or bad luck. And when so many races at Daytona, I won all the races at Daytona, except for 24 hours.

I came second in my class as it is. And that -- you know, it's a unique race track. It's a unique place. It's a magical place.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty years of trying, 20 years of frustration. Dale Earnhardt will come to the flag to win the Daytona 500. Finally. Every man on every crew has come out to the edge of the pit lane to congratulate.

EARNHARDT: The Daytona 500 is ours. We've won it. We've won it. We've won it.


JOY: Ken, you were in victory lane that day.

SQUIRE: Yes, gosh, when he won Daytona, he stood in victory lane, and he thanked everyone. He thanked the Lord. He thanked his father, Ralph Earnhardt. He thanked T. Wayne Robertson. He thanked his old sidekick Neil Bonnet. He thanked everybody he said that had touched his life and helped him get where he was.

And then he said something that was so un-Earnhardt. He said, You know, as I came out of the fourth turn, I cried a little bit in the race car. And he thought what he said and said, Well, I didn't cry. My eyes just watered up.

JOY: Of course.

Usually, at the conclusion of a race like that, the network would cut away to commercial before joining you in victory lane. And Jim Cornell (ph), our associate, sensed that something was happening. Didn't know quite what.

And I just about lost it to see that entire pit road just lined with people that two minutes before were trying their best to beat him. Now, fully cognizant of what he had accomplished after so many years of coming so close so many times, that that receiving line that formed up along the pit lane was something like I've never seen in a quarter century of covering this sport. Just such a genuine outpouring of emotion and relief, that Dale Earnhardt had finally achieved the one goal in this sport that he eluded him.

We are in the -- we are in the naive of the Calvary Church here in South Charlotte; seats 6,200. And friends, racing companions, from colleagues are all gathering. It is still about 40 minutes before the service will begin today. And we expect that every seat will be taken for this memorial, this celebration of the life of Dale Earnhardt.

SQUIRE: I was always moved by what the Tennessean writer, Larry Woody, wrote. He once said, Dale Earnhardt doesn't drive for the dough; he drives for the sheer enjoyment of it. He chases checkered flags for the same reason the beagles chase rabbits. It's his nature. Indeed it was.

JOY: We sat down with him in New York on the eve of the Winston Cup banquet this past year. And I asked him if the car owner said, I put all the money in the race car. Dale, I can't afford to pay you. But it's the best car we can put on a track. Would you drive it? And he and the other champions hemmed and hawed. And finally, he said, I'm here to race. I'm here to win races.

And in asking, Who in history would you like to have raised, he kind of bowed head and said, My dad, yes. And I gave him an elbow, and I said, Who would have won? He said, My dad.

SQUIRE: I've always liked the story about him when he was on the Wheaties box. You know? He kind of grew up quit-lock and hunkering those guys creating him as Mr. Guts, Gull and Grits. That was the big thing. And then it was '97 when he became the first race driver on a cereal box. He got together with the press one day. And he said, Guys, you're going to cut off all that stuff about grits.

Yes, he was special.

JOY: The array of flowers are those that arrived just this morning. Dale Earnhardt Incorporated is filled row and row of flowers in Earnhardt's museum where his prized car sit, including a '58 Corvette, the year of Teresa's birth, that he bought her for her last birthday. And a '88 Corvette, he bought Taylor Nicole to commemorate her birth year. That was a gift her last birthday.

The florists in Mooresville and the surrounding areas say they have orders for flowers, they will not be able to begin to fill for more than three weeks. There has been such an outpouring from across the country. And there's an arrangement there from the Roper family, who lost their son on the race track this past summer.

Sunday night on FOX Sports net when we had to go on with cheerful news, words came. I knew not from where. But they had been repeated often. And I really had to dig.

In saying that the compass of this sport has lost its true north, those words rattled in my head. And they -- the words about true north come from a song by one of Nashville's best singer/songwriters and a racer, John Hyatt (ph), who wrote a song called "Drive South."

Susie Bogas (ph) made a hit, talking about looking for our true north, with our head in the clouds, and being just a little off course.

The compass words, I knew came not from where, until in the planning of this show, we went up to Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. And this is the logo, the centerpiece of which is a compass.

But we are here, Ken, today, to commemorate Dale's life and to look back on all of the great times that were shared by us, and by the fans, and by the racers.

And most importantly, the fans. Reports of people driving from Ohio, to leave tokens and mementos at Dale Earnhardt incorporates this week.

Let's hear from the fans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never knew Dale personally or anything, but I felt like -- we felt like we've really lost a member of our own family. And to us, he'll always be the greatest driver there is. And nobody will ever replace him. Dale Jr., I hope he carries on, and he will carry on his name. But there will never be another Dale Earnhardt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dale, he's going to be well, well missed. There's a lot of good memories. Dale was a very good person. If there was a way he wanted to go, that was the way he wanted to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just try to say that he's in a better place. You know, he didn't have to get the 8th championship, because he's going through the golden gates now, you know. And that's -- that's a championship in its own. So it's really hard. It's really hard.


SQUIRE: Over the years, Earnhardt became quite religious. He always had a proverb that would be attached to the dashboard of his car. And then he raced in which he drove.

And Stevie Waltrip was the person responsible for finding him the message each day. In this past Daytona 500, it was Proverbs 1810: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe."

There was a time at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where a race was ready to begin. He was strapped in, cinched up, ready to go. And all of the sudden, climbed out of his car and walked down a pit row, looking for Stevie Waltrip. And he said, I don't have my message for my car today. He was not ready to run until he had it.

JOY: Many NASCAR folks are here today. Most anyone you can name from the sport is here or on the way here. Some other celebrities, as Dale was close to baseball in the Atlanta Braves. Rick Sutcliff, the ex-pitcher, is here. Kix Brooks and Rodney Dunn, Rodeo star Tuff Hedeman, governor of Alabama, Randy Owen from the group Alabama, are among the many folks who have gathered here today.

Brooks & Dunn perhaps best epitomized Dale Earnhardt's style as they sang about the cowboy way and about toughness under competition. Then they invited Dale to participate in one of their music videos.




SQUIRE: A celebration -- the life of Earnhardt is not complete without some of his music. There will be a vocalist before the service is over today, you may be sure.

JOY: You could just see the fun he had in doing that video, and Earnhardt made everything a little fun -- a story in the paper that, one day at the racetrack, he parked a little too close to Sterling Marlin's team's car, and to show their appreciation, they went a banged a bunch of wheel weights on one of Earnhardt's -- on Earnhardt's wheels so they couldn't drive more than 25 miles an hour on the way to the airport after the race. Well, the car's shaking all over the place. And Earnhardt told Sterling -- he said, someday when you're not at the lake house, I'm going to go down there and just lock up a goat inside and leave it there.

SQUIRE: Did he?

JOY: I don't know if he ever made good on that promise, but it sure was a heck of a threat. I don't think Sterling strayed too far from that house for awhile.

SQUIRE: You know, years ago, he talked about his dad, who was the 1956 sports national sportsman championship of NASCAR, and he said, all my daddy ever did was build cars, race cars, and bird hunt. This is back when he was a young guy just getting started. And he said, that's all I want to do. He said, I can't imagine not driving a race car. That's part of what made Earnhardt so special to racing people.

JOY: He touched on driving that car in the 24 hours of Daytona. Larry McReynolds and I caught up with him the Monday after: How you doing, what's going on? And all he could talk about was sharing that car with Earnhardt Jr., and the other Chevrolet team drivers and how much fun it was to come out of the bus stop chakain (ph) in the pouring rain, in the dead of night, come whistle around that banking at 175 mph -- man, that was fun.

And his only frustration was he wanted to stay in the car. They liked to change drivers every fuel stop in that race. Dale was used to riding 3 1/2 hours at a stretch: Leave me in, leave me in, put me back in. And he couldn't wait to do that again. He and junior had such fun at that.

SQUIRE: He actually stopped Corvette and came over and chatted the day I got to Daytona, by the registration building, about that, and how exciting it was. what a unique experience it was, and he couldn't wait to do it again with Dale Jr., to go anywhere, if he could get the weekend off, and go 176 miles an hour -- that's what he said -- in the dark, in the rain -- that was a kick, that was Earnhardt.

JOY: Well, coming to Daytona this year was one of the baddest cats to ever wear black: Terry Bradshaw, who led the Steelers several times to the Super Bowl. And he came to Daytona with just one request: He wanted to get in the car with Dale Earnhardt.


TERRY BRADSHAW: Hey you know, I got all this stuff. I sure hope Dale lets me drive. I don't think he will. I sure hope he does.

DALE EARNHARDT: Put the helmet on, let's go.

All right, you've got to stay out of this line coming off Pit Road (ph).

BRADSHAW: All right -- why am I nervous?

EARNHARDT: You shouldn't be.

BRADSHAW: I shouldn't be?


BRADSHAW: What about turn free, Dale, what's so special or...

EARNHARDT: All right, this is where I like the race -- if I'm in line, if there's nobody side by side. You get cars side by side, and you're running a high lane, and you've got to run up here, and the guys are down inside of you. And you get way up here on the high lane like this.

BRADSHAW: Christmas, this is not fun.

EARNHARDT: Yes, it is, it's cool, man. Now, we're doing it in race cars, this isn't a dingy-old street car.

Now, what's bad about this: the grade track falls out.

BRADSHAW: What's bad about this...

EARNHARDT: It falls out from under here, and you totally get wham into the wall.

When it falls off like that, it makes your car do that, so you've got to be really careful right there, because it takes the air out from under the car, and it loses traction right there for just an instant. You don't want to go there and cash the apron too quick, or you'll lose it, me too.

BRADSHAW: Let's see it.

Let's come out like you won.


Come on, get out, get out, get out, get out.


SQUIRE: That was a far different Earnhardt than a lot of folks remember in the last two or three year, and I think it really began around the time of Dale Jr., beginning to succeed.

JOY: I think you're right.

SQUIRE: Back in '94, after Neil Bonnet was killed on that same track in that same corner of almost the same injury. He seemed a very quiet person for some time, and he would hide his real feelings by getting in that race car.

But after Dale Jr., and Kerry began -- and when Kerry won that ARCA Race, he began to became a different person than known before.

JOY: That was quite a change in Dale Earnhardt the man, and I agree he went into a period of semi-seclusion there after losing his best friend, Neil Bonnet. And the way he dealt with it, a close friend told me yesterday, was he dealt with it by being Dale Earnhardt, by being the public person you know. SQUIRE: The Intimidator.

JOY: Yes, and keeping those emotions bottled up inside.

SQUIRE: And the car was his sanctity; he could get away.

And within a couple of hours of that incident, seven years and seven days before this incident, he was in that race car, and that's where he truly felt comfortable.

JOY: We're gathered at Calvary Church, in south Charlotte, where in some 20 minutes, the service will begin to celebrate the life of Dale Earnhardt. And as we review his career both on and off the track, 6,200 seats are filling with Dale's extended family from NASCAR racing.


We've seen the Dale Earnhardt that you know and remember from your TV set and from the grandstands at the racetracks, but who was Dale Earnhardt the person? Let's show you about his growing up and about the person off the track that he became.


NARRATOR: Everyone knew Dale Earnhardt's public image as the Intimidator, the man in black, the most fear and respected man in all racing, but privately, Earnhardt was different.

Dale was born to Ralph and Martha Earnhardt more than 50 years ago, in the small North Carolina mill town of Kannapolis. Ralph was a racer by trade, among the fiercest of his day: Ironheart was NASCAR national sportsman champ in 1956, and young Dale wanted to follow in his dad's tire tracks, but the road to success was a rough one.

Earnhardt dropped out of school early to pursue his racing dream, but it was a struggle, as was his personal life. He had a couple of marriages fail at an early age and his world was shattered by his father's sudden death from a heart attack in 1973, just as Dale's racing career was beginning to take shape.


EARNHARDT: I think the only thing -- or the biggest thing I ever did wrong in my life was probably not go to school, and I quit school early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if I asked you, what's the biggest mistake you've ever made...

EARNHARDT: Quit school early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be...

EARNHARDT: Yes, and a lot because of my education. But the biggest thing is my dad -- it's what my dad would have wanted me to do is finish school.


NARRATOR: As Dale matured behind the wheel, he also grew up off the track. In time, Dale became a devoted father to sons Kerry and Dale Jr., along with daughters Kelly and Taylor Nicole. And since his marriage to Teresa, the two have been nearly inseparable.

Dale encouraged his kids to take up the family business.


ANNOUNCER: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Texas Speedway's second first- time Winston Cup winner.


NARRATOR: His involvement in Dale Jr.'s career has been well documented, and he played a large role in Junior's quick rise to NASCAR's stardom.


ANNOUNCER: And another Earnhardt goes to Victory Lane: Kerry Earnhardt wins here at Pocono.


NARRATOR: Dale helped resurrect oldest son Kerry's driving career. He fielded a car for Kerry on the ARCA series last year and no one could deny a father's pride at Pocono when Kerry reached Victory Lane for the first time.

Maybe the most talented of the three older Earnhardt kids was daughter Kelly, who dabbled in racing for a short time, intimidating local drivers on the late-model stock car circuits.

Away from the track, Earnhardt was an accomplished outdoorsman. Was he most at home in a quiet field or stream, or behind the wheel of a farm tractor, or off hunting with one of his best friends, Neil Bonnet.

Despite humble beginnings, Earnhardt was a millionaire many times over. He earned over $40 million in prize money on the racetrack, and sales of his merchandise were said to rival that of Michael Jordan. He owned a successful Winston Cup race team that had seen each of its three drivers in Victory Lane in the past nine months, and his name was on one of the most successful car dealerships in the United States.

But Dale Earnhardt the man will be best remembered as devoted husband, loving father, and loyal friend.


MICHAEL WALTRIP, RACER: Yesterday was our day. And in Victory Lane, I just couldn't wait. I won the race and I was telling everybody about it and I just couldn't wait until I got that big grab on the neck and big hug. I just knew any minute Dale was going to run into Victory Lane and say, that's what I'm talking about right there. But that wasn't to be. My belief is that, in the twinkle of an eye, you're in the presence of the Lord. And that's where I think Dale is.


NARRATOR: Car owner Richard Childress said, "Dale was my friend. We hunted and raced together, we laughed and cried together, we were able to work side-by-side and have the success we had for almost 20 years because we were friends first. I will miss him always. He was the greatest."




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you like who you are? Do you like Dale Earnhardt?

EARNHARDT: I'm pretty happy with him today. He's a pretty straight guy. He don't make mistakes too often. He's a pretty good guy. He stays in line. He does his job. You know, he's going to get rambunctious on the racetrack, but that's about the biggest part of it, you know. He's not going to do anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you afraid of?

EARNHARDT: Oh, my wife.


Not really afraid of her, I just don't want to disappoint her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a real good answer.

EARNHARDT: I don't want to disappoint her. And -- but I don't know. I've never really been afraid of anything in a race car. The fact of fire's there always, you know.


EARNHARDT: But it's not a fear.


EARNHARDT: And that's a concern. If there's a safety aspect to racing that I worry about, it's fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might know you'd have to go through somewhat of one.

EARNHARDT: Well, I did with Elliott in a crash and I got burned a little bit, but that wasn't a major deal. But I really never been scared or nervous when I got in a race car. Been scared when Tim Richmond was running up across the racetrack like he was going to kill me after we wrecked in Pocono killed me up in Pocono. And after you I got into it at Richmond, I thought somebody...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you scared then?

EARNHARDT: I thought someone was going to kill me then. I thought Stevie was going to get me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thought Junior was going to get you, too.

EARNHARDT: Yes, Junior was pretty mad about tearing his light work (ph) race car up, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sucker did fly apart.

EARNHARDT: But, you know, you go through all of that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But is Dale Earnhardt other than a race car driver? You said your wife, and I understand that perfectly. What else? Is there anything away from the racetrack? What else are you afraid of?

EARNHARDT: I don't know that there's really anything that I'm afraid of other than just -- seems like I want everybody to be happy. I mean, I just want -- I mean, I don't want things to come up tomorrow and somebody's unhappy. My kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you're in the wrong business, buddy.

EARNHARDT: Well, I'm talking about my kids. I'm talking about -- you want all your people that works for you to be happy. I'm probably not the best boss there ever was because I'm...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think you're demanding?

EARNHARDT: Too good hearted in a lot of ways. And I let people run things a little bit too much sometimes when I should put my foot down, say, no, this is -- you know, we got to stay in line, we got to do this. But the guys are -- I just want everybody to be happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you see yourself? How do you feel about Dale Earnhardt?

EARNHARDT: A lot better...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have known you for so long.

EARNHARDT: A lot better today than I did several years ago, because of family, because of my life, because I think I'm a better person I used to be. I got a great wife, and a great family, proud of my kids, all of them. And I'm really -- I've really got it all right now. I'm racing and enjoying it, I win, I'm competitive. But my family, everything's great there. And then I have some good race teams, too. My kid wins races. Kerry, my oldest son, is there with us, so got grandkids. I mean, I'm having a good time. I've got it all right now, Darrell, I got it all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you really do. You're...

EARNHARDT: I'm really -- I'm a lucky man. I have it all. I mean, the Lord's looked after us, I reckon. My aunt and uncle made me go to Sunday school when my daddy was racing and working, and I went to Sunday school with my aunt. And she -- and I reckon that helped a lot when I was a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That teaches us all a lot of values.

EARNHARDT: Got me on the straight path, I reckon.


JOY: Last year, reacting to an on-track death, Earnhardt, driving down the road with a close associate, told him, if this ever happens to me, you guys better be in the street dancing and partying, because I had a good life and I'm going to challenge you to keep carrying on.

SQUIRE: Yes, one of the traditions of racing, which I think is greatly misunderstood, is the business of when a comrade falls, one goes forward, one goes on. And as long as I know, over 50 years that I've been in this game, that's what I've always known and recognized, that if a comrade falls, you pick yourself up and you perform at the highest level at which you can in the very next event. And that is the finest tribute you can pay to the comrade who has fallen. I've always thought that was part of the American way.

It's a serious game and they play it in a serious manner. This is not a child or adolescent game, it's also been a serious game. And Earnhardt knew that and it registered with him.

Wilt Browning once wrote about Earnhardt. He said, "If you want drama, you get Earnhardt. And if you want 500 miles on the ragged edge, you get Earnhardt. If you want reckless abandon, you get Earnhardt."

I think Tom Wolf may have been wrong about who was the last American hero. Claimed it was Junior Johnson in that wonderful article he wrote. But I think a lot of people today are going to respond to what has happened this past week in Daytona, that this is a true American hero.

JOY: I would agree. Dale stayed true to character. Money, fame and success never changed him to the people who knew him longest. His vehicle of choice remained a pickup truck. That's just who he was.

SQUIRE: Yes. I always got a kick out of the fact of who his heroes were, I mean who he liked today. He liked his dad and the way his dad raced, but he thought Joe Montana was hot stuff, and he loved John McEnroe.

Now, he was not a big tennis guy, but McEnroe was one of the people -- somebody asked him one time about that and he said, ah, John McEnroe.

Of course, John McEnroe had a -- has a bit of an attitude as well, and that's what the Intimidator showed to a lot of people. And they did not get -- most people did not get that opportunity to see the side of this guy spending so much time with people, invalids, older people. He made it a big point to do that. A lot of his time was spent. And he wanted no credit for it and he wanted no photos taken. He didn't want any publicity about it. He simply did it because he thought he should because those people cared about him.

JOY: We'll probably hear in coming months of all the people that he helped around the central Carolinas, folks that will come forward and say, Dale and I did this together, or Dale was involved in this with me. He liked all forms of racing. He'd sit in his motor coach on early Sunday mornings and catch the live feed of Formula One from Europe. He was all up to date on who drove what car and why and the moves that drivers had made in the most recent races. And he was an avid student of the sport.

But then he'd climb out of that motor home, put on those sunglasses and start swaggering toward that garage area and he'd be Dale Earnhardt. Quite a transformation and quite a public persona.

SQUIRE: I think one of the great stories about Earnhardt will always be the crash at Teledaga (ph) when he had that awful incident and he'd broken his sternum and he'd broken his collar bone and he'd broken some ribs and he'd banged up his leg. And he walked away, as you saw in some footage that we presented earlier.

And at the very next race, Watkins Glenn, there he was. And there was a backup driver ready to take over the No. 3 and he thought he wanted to go out and practice the car. And he went out and practiced the car. And then he went out and decided that he'd give it a chance at qualifying, and he qualified it on the pole.

And then it got down to race time and he was going to drive to the first caution or the first stop for fuel and tires. And he drove the race and finished six with all of those injuries and all of that pain. And he said it was sort of a dull ache in my shoulder and it really hurt in my chest. And he said the first and second hour are like that, and then the third hour I sort of got tired. That was Earnhardt.

JOY: We're drawing near to the time of the service here at Calvary Church in South Charlotte. It is to be a very simple service and remembrance. I believe the family is arriving now.

He was asked once about what his motto would be. He said, work hard and be honest. Willpower and determination can see you through, can see you through most things. And, oh, yes, enjoy your family.


We have one last piece we would like to share with you before the service begins that Pam Servaugh (ph) edited, a very loving piece on Dale Earnhardt. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


ANNOUNCER: Dale Earnhardt will come to the finishing flag to win the Daytona 500.

Every man on every crew has come out to the edge of Pit Lane to congratulate the man who has dominated everything there is to win in this court.




ANNOUNCER: And Earnhardt loses it, goes on the grass, cuts back and Elliott goes inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I spun it about five car out and caused a big mess, and then he come up there and tried to spin me out twice. I didn't take it.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Remember me, because I care (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and get in touch if the wind blows in your face.

I guess it's been too much fun that we've shared and we've won. And, yes, the best is yet to come.

Goodbye, goodbye, till I see you again. And goodbye, goodbye, I'll love and I'll miss you till then.

That one word hurts so bad when you lose a friend, you think. But you keep the faith and you pray to return.

Goodbye, goodbye, I'll love and I'll miss you till then.

JOHN COZART, PASTOR, ST. MARK'S LUTHERAN CHURCH: Thank you, Randy. We are so blessed to have your talent and your spirit with us today.

I am thankful to be a part of this home-going celebration memorial for Dale Earnhardt. As his hometown pastor, St. Mark's feels that we've lost a church member and a very special friend. Our prayers and our concerns go out to everyone who knew and loved Dale. At this time, let us bow our hearts and our minds and pray together, the prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and every, amen.

Our selected scripture text for the service today is a reading from the 11th chapter of St. John:

"Now, when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem about two miles off and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house.

"Martha said to Jesus, `Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.'

"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.'

"Martha said to him, `I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'

"Jesus said to her, `I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he died, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?'

"She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, he who is coming into the world.'"

May we be blessed by the reading of God's holy word on this day.

DALE BEAVER, WINSTON CUP CHAPLAIN, MOTOR RACING OUTREACH: Thank you Pastor Cozart. And on behalf of the family, thank you all for coming. I particularly want to thank the staff of Calvary Church for opening their doors and allowing us and working so selflessly to make us comfortable here today. So, to Pastor Wagner (ph) and the staff, thank you for that.

I don't know about you, but on the last couple of days I've been searching for a place to anchor my hope. When times like this come, when they come for all of us, we look to a place to anchor for stability. We want to celebrate and remember and thank and think about the man that we love. I want to encourage you to do three things in the coming days: to tell those stories, and everybody's got a Dale Earnhardt story who's sitting in here, and to laugh and to remember the emotion that goes with those stories, to listen to each other as you tell those stories and to pray. Pray alone and pray with each other. I think Dale would be happy that we would be laughing and telling stories with each other.

But where do we go from here? I mean, each of us -- we don't like thinking about this -- but what do we do, those who are here today? How do we anchor to something? An author has said it better than I can say it, he -- Dave Haney, who writes in his book, "A Living Hope," says that to imagine that there is no such thing as absolute truth is essentially a corruption of the hope that we have in Christ. When Jesus said in John 14:6, he is the way, the truth, and the life, he gave a fairly strong indication to us that there are absolutes in the world; absolutes, and that he is the standard of those absolutes.

No wonder sometimes we, as people of faith, suffer from the symptoms of chronic loss of hope. And listen to what he says: Where hope -- where our hope is anchored in the quicksand of relativism -- and what relativism is just where you say, truth is relative, it's of no one origin -- where the hope of us is anchored in the quicksand of this nonabsolute -- I love what he says here -- it has the sustaining power of warm Jell-O. I hope you will find that you can anchor into a deeper hope as you look into this text that Pastor Cozart has read today and as we reflect on today.

But I want to you think for just a moment about the first time you met Dale Earnhardt. Do you remember the first time you met Dale? I remember the first time I met Dale. I had the opportunity to be a chaplain with the Motor Racing Outreach, and I go from track to track, and I'm kind of a pastor and a chaplain that visits with the men who are not only on the teams, but who drive these race cars. And I remember that I was very young in this ministry -- about six months going along. And Lonnie Klause (ph), who was our youth pastor -- some of you sitting here know Lonnie -- wanted to take the kids on a camping trip in Pocono.

And we were at this beautiful place, and we were going to go to the Pocono Mountains and take the kids; and Taylor wanted to go on this camping trip -- or I think she did, anyway. And Lonnie came to me, and he said -- now, Lonnie's from New Hampshire, we'll forgive him for that. But Lonnie said, yo, dude! He says I need you to take this permission slip to Big E and get him to sign it because Taylor wants to go on this camping trip.

And I said, OK, I'll do it; I'll be glad to do that. So as I started walking toward the garage, I knew that meant that for the first time I was going to have to be in the presence of Dale. And so, as I thought about that a minute, I said, you know, I've developed a pretty good relationship with Richard Childress' PR guy, J.R. -- and I don't know what J.R.'s real name is. J.R. is J.R., and those of you that know him know him as J.R.

So I said, I'll do a, end-run around this and I will give the permission slip to J.R.. I'll have J.R. take the permission slip to Dale, it'll all be handled, I'll get the permission slip and we can go on our way.

So I gave it to J.R.; 20 minutes later I came back and J.R.'s looking at me with the permission slip, and it doesn't have a signature on it. And he looked at me and he said, he wants to see you a few minutes.

He wants to see me. J.R., would you take me to him?

Yes, yes, come on.

So we got up on the transporter, that I'd never been on before, and we walked these few feet to the back cubbyhole that's a lounge and we are walking down what seems like miles into this dark place, into the back. And I said, what kind of mood -- what's he doing? And J.R. said, he's having lunch. And I said, oh, great, he's killed a bear this morning and he's sitting in the back of this thing eating a bear with bare hands and I'm going to be dessert because I want to take his daughter on a camping trip.

So as we get to the back, J.R. introduces me. I didn't find a man eating a bear; I didn't see deer heads around the wall. I saw a man eating an orange in a very warm demeanor, welcome me into his presence. I didn't come into the presence of a racing icon or an intimidating figure, I came into the presence of a dad; a father who was concerned about his daughter as I know he's concerned about all his children and his grandchildren.

And he wanted to ask me for just the next few moments what our intentions were with Taylor going onto this camping trip, when we would be back? And it's interesting; I walked out of there getting a lesson in parenthood. I told Dale -- I said Dale, if you're concerned about this, I certainly understand because I've got two boys and I don't want them to cross the street -- and I connected with him there. He said yes, yes; he said, that's right. He said, that's right. He said they grow up fast. He said they grow up fast and you need to spend as much time with them as you can.

I walked away from there that day welcomed into the presence of a father. And that's what I want you to think about today, because ultimately that's what, on a physical level, we can relate to on a spiritual level. The scripture that Pastor Cozart just read talks about Jesus coming into a situation with a family that he loved. These were not just casual acquaintances who had a need, these were people that Jesus was intimately involved with; he was their friend.

And Jesus comes into this situation emotionally and he's looking at the disciples and he's saying, Lazarus is dead. He's already gone, and I'm glad that I wasn't there. And I'm thinking, wait just a minute, if Jesus could have been there he would have healed him and he would not have died. Why would Jesus be excited that his friend Lazarus was gone?

I stand by the car of all you guys, as I stand -- as I stood with Dale and Teresa before, and we always ask, God protect these men as they get in this race car. Protect these teams as they're on pit row, please; and don't let anything happen to them today -- give them a safe race. And most of the time God grants that request and we rejoice as we go home, but sometimes he doesn't.

And Jesus would look at us and say, I'm glad I didn't -- I'm glad I wasn't there? Why in the world would he choose to miss intervening in these situations of our lives? He did it for the disciples, I think the same reason he does it for us today: so that we will see and experience his greater glory. Do you catch that?

Jesus moves through the passage, and as he greets and meets Martha and the sisters who are grieving over this situation, he helps them answer the question of life that every one of us sitting here today and watching today are asking: and the question you and I are asking today is, I want to know if death is the most powerful force in the universe. I can tell you, as we read from the beginning, if death is the most powerful force in the universe and there are no absolutes for you and I to anchor our faith in, then we're in trouble. We're in deathly grave trouble.

But Jesus comes along in that passage and he looks at the sister and he says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live." Do you hear that -- do you hear those words? Will you let that sink in today, because if that's an absolute truth which standards flow from, then you and I have a hope that's more sustaining than warm Jell-O. We have the bedrock of life for today and forever more. That's what I want you to see today. Interesting, isn't it?

Martha says yes, Lord, I know that my brother will rise in the resurrection at the last day; and yes, Lord, I understand that, but Jesus is taking her to a more immediate act of faith -- "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."

Later on in the passage, in verse 40, we have these words: "Didn't I tell you that you will see God's glory if you believe?" So they rolled the stone aside and Jesus looked up to heaven and said father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here so they will believe that you sent me -- notice that. Then Jesus shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus came out, bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth, and Jesus told him at this resurrection moment -- he told the people around him, because he was bound in grave clothes, he says, "unwrap him and let him go." Verse 45 says many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

Will you believe in absolutes with me today? Because the absolute truth is that Christ has provided a way for all of us. When I walked that day into the presence of greatness -- I don't have to tell you Dale Earnhardt was great -- I went with a person and found a father. See the connection here? I don't want to liken -- I told J.R., I said, J.R., I don't want to liken to you Jesus, I'm not out to try to compare you with him. I'm not up here today to say that Dale Earnhardt was God -- that's not it at all. But I'm saying that you and I will one day be ushered into the presence of a very intimidating force. And we have the privilege, based on this passage today, to have somebody go with us.

Jesus says, I'll take you there. Jesus is not just a public relations manager, he is the savior of the world and he can escort you into the presence of greatness to where you will feel no fear, but you will find rest for your soul, and the presence of a dad. That's what you can trust; that's where you can hope. There's a savior that will take there you there. I wonder if you know him.

Father God, thank you so very much for just the meditation of your word and the hope that we find in you. Thank you so very much, just for loving this family and the way that I've seen you move in their midst over the last couple days. What a precious privilege it is to sit here in a house of worship and to remember your goodness to a man that we love; and we thank you because we know that our hope does not lie in something that's empty, but in something that can save our souls. Be with us this day, we ask, for Christ's sake, amen.


BEAVER: And may the grace of Christ our savior and the love of God our father and the fellowship of the spirit be with us today and forever more, amen.


KAGAN: We've been watching a memorial service for Dale Earnhardt, the NASCAR great who was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

That was about 6,000 people of the NASCAR community packed into the Cavalry Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

HARRIS: And what we saw and heard here was quite a measure of the man over the past half hour. Heard quite a few stories, personal stories, shared about his life, and not as much talk about his career; most of it about his life.

KAGAN: Driver, husband, friend and father; and we got to hear all about it over last hour-and-a-half.



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