2001: A Sports Odyssey

AlbatrossContributor IFebruary 26, 2009

I never enjoyed watching NASCAR until I began working for GENERAL MOTORS.  It was the 2001 Daytona 500, and I was asked to be part of a pool on who was going to win Daytona.

I confessed i didn't know much about the sport, but it didn't seem to matter so i just picked Rusty Wallace because everyone else had taken either the Earnhardts' or Jeff Gordon. Rusty became my driver up until the day he retired.  He had fought hard for a third place victory that day.

I remember the excitement going into the last turn as Rusty and a mob of other cars were fighting hard for position. The atmosphere was electric, and the adrenaline was pumping.  All was right in the world of NASCAR.  

That was, until the sports biggest star, DALE EARNHARDT, was sent crashing hard into the wall during the final turn, on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

The death of Dale Earnhardt had several ripple effects, only one of which being the extra interest generated by the tragedy translating into record ratings for NASCAR, as well as the mandatory use of head and neck restraints, the likes of which could have probably prevented Earnhardt's death had he been using one.

This action alone has probably saved the lives of many drivers over the past eight years.  

The next morning, when I arrived at work, I found the plant to be drowning in the tears of so many. Grown men, woman, and supervisors alike were balling like babies in a burning building. I knew i'd never look at NASCAR the same way again, as I watched fathers and sons weep together as if they'd just lost a family member, and in a way they had.  

Earnhardts' funeral was the following Thursday, and something happened that day that I thought i'd never see. General Motors shut down the production line for  a whole thirty minutes so we could all watch and give our final respects to the Intimidater.

It was at this point that I had began to realize just how much money Earnhardt had actually made GM. Which further lead me to question whether or not the powers at be at GM only valued your worth in dollars.

Of course, I didn't share my opinion with many people, mostly because they wouldn't have cared anyway, but GM did have a chance to prove me wrong seven months later.

On Sept. 11, 2001 the world watched in terror as America was attacked.  

Once more I arrived at work to the sight of co-workers in tears.  Once more I see people consoling one another.  Once more I see a Plant filled with more than three thousand employees, united through both grief, and an overwhelming sense of the unknown.  

We worked all through the night that night, and every other night and day after Sept. 11. As a matter of fact, after Earnhardts' funeral, we never had another non work related break at the plant again, including the day of, and the day's following the events of 9/11.  

Now, don't get me wrong. I fully understand what Earnhardt did for GM, and why they allowed us to get paid to view his funeral. He made himself, and a lot of people around him a lot of cash, and not just with his abilities on the race track, but with who he was as a person as well.

A part of me just wishes that the same "powers at be" that found justification in allowing us to honor Earnhardt, had shown that same kind of enthusiasm for those brave souls killed on Sept. 11.  

Some of whom probably purchased vehicles from GM, or rooted heavily for CHEVY while watching  NASCAR races, but more so than anything deserved our love, compassion, and respect simply for dying doing what we all do each and every day, living life.  

Maybe if General Motors were more in-tune with the average person they wouldn't be begging for money from congress as we speak.

Regardless of what happens to GM from here on out it is obvious to me, that when it comes to loyalty and respect in their workplace...It's definitely all about the Benjamins!