Out of all the things I’ve seen in my life, it’s a moment I didn’t witness that echoes in my head everyday. Familiarizing myself with all the events that occurred doesn’t silence it, either. Instead, it adds fuel to the fire.
I’ve watched television specials. I’ve visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s display. I’ve read pieces written by those who’ve known, interviewed, and raced against him.
Him, The Man.
The legend that seemed larger than life and still does. With a mischievous smile and browbeating stare, why they call him “The Intimidator” is understandable. How he drove was the perfect mix of aggression and intelligence.
I am young. I never saw Earnhardt race.
Over the years, as the world moves farther away from February 18, 2001, NASCAR and its fans hold it close. Every year on this day, candlelight vigils are held at the site of Dale Earnhardt Inc. Tokens of memorabilia once bought, handmade signs, and tears are left outside the team he built. Nothing brings NASCAR people to their knees like that day. You mention his name, and people get nostalgic. You mention the number, and things turn vicious.
A sliver of bone once lodged itself within Earnhardt’s nerves back in 1999. Due to this, his right arm would fall numb. He raced with his left and would rest the sleeping limb. But he still raced. Just like that bone, the memories wash over us from time to time. Despite this, we have to continue on. Continuing on is letting that No. 3 return to its rightful place, on the racetrack. And continuing on is the only choice that we have, that NASCAR has.
I am young. I never saw Earnhardt race. The legacy, however, surges through me because I am a NASCAR fan. That is worth something.
With the No. 3 back on track, the latest generation will now know who glorified that number, why it’s important, and what it represents. Austin Dillon will do everyone proud. Angry seas may now rest. Dillon’s grandfather/car owner and Earnhardt’s best friend Richard Childress wouldn’t tarnish the vestige that still hangs in so many hearts. Acceptance is the next step. It’s the only step.
And what exactly does that slanted numeral embody?
Hard work. Never lifting. Humanity. Racing not only because it’s a skill, but because it’s an essential part of living.
It embodies an everyday hero that drove like he stole it each race.
It embodies him.
Him, The Man.