Friday, February 18, 2011

"Seven seconds away from having a great day"

That title from a chapter in The Big Picture in referring to ten years ago this very day, the loss of an American figure whose death was more of the death of an American figure, more than Elvis Presley, and more than Michael Jackson, especially to a nation of those who enjoy their heroes as action heroes as grandfathers who could snarl anyone, be unafraid for new challenges, and show how tough heroes could have class.

Dale Earnhardt Snr was the symbol of an America that may have passed us by with the current era of leadership in this country, but to his loyal fans, the employees who worked for any of his enterprises, including an auto dealership and a Perdue farm, and a man who went from a humble dirt-track driver with a widowed mother (who is still living today), to a folk hero of the people with his tenacity that influenced a President, to having investing professionals paying him for the right to trade using his seat at the two major stock exchanges at the time. He was a tough “Intimidator,” and truly showed his image as “One Tough Customer”.

He introduced alternate jersey concepts in motorsport with All-Star Race cars that celebrated special events, and drove a piece of pop art at All-Star Race XVI in the form of hippie artist Peter Max's design for the signature #3 that can be seen at Richard Childress' museum and may have been his most famous piece of art, considering it was raced. It would be akin to an artist laying his specially designed livery on a Ferrari 150th Italia, or on a McLaren MP4 for one race.

He even purchased a stake in a local minor league baseball team and renamed it in his own image (Kannapolis Intimidators), with his close friend Sam Bass, who designed many liveries (even in INDYCAR) designing the team's “Killer K” logo, with the team later retiring his #3 akin to Gene Autry's #26 at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (This year, the team is adding an “I” with the image of the 1998 Daytona 500 win as an alternate logo)

In his later years, he had even greater aspirations. He dreamed of competing with Katech in a friendly rivalry with Richie Gilmore building LS engines for the Corvette Racing project with a “factory” Corvette and a DEI Corvette, zipping by over 200 MPH through Ligne Droite des Hunaudi√®res on Route D√©partementale D338, zipping through the hills as he raced through the 24 Heures du Mans as a retired driver in his early 50's.

It never happened. Making the black #3 mainstream and a folk hero made sure his death would be mourned by millions. Fans in Washington drove one silent loop around the Washington Beltway to mourn. NC 136, now renamed NC 3, and the Dale Trail have become celebrated places. Middle America had lost at 4:40 PM on February 18, 2001, a hero who was a cowboy of another type.

A nation who loved their heroes tough and willing to lead was Dale Earnhardt Snr, who showed to be an entrepreneur, something his son has acquired with his own enterprises (a race team, saloon, and various business enterprises). The image of The Intimidator was one where President George W. Bush sent an official condolence letter and representative to the memorial service. Seven months later, when terrorists struck in New York, Arlington, and Shanksville, Bush turned Intimidator on Usama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, choosing to rattle their cage, and it started with an image that only Earnhardt's sponsor VF Corporation could love.

America still needs that tough-guy image that Dale sold Madison Avenue today, and the Tea Party reminds me of the “spirit of Dale” that is still in America that liberals hate.

We might have thought the perfect words for Dale's death were said when he was watching the Grande Premio di San Marino one May morning in his motorcoach, and that afternoon after he won and the sad news of that morning was told, how he remembered Ayrton Senna first in his interview after a win.

“It was a shame to see him go the way he did.”
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