Letting Go of the Past...But Never Forgetting

Anthony HammettCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

30 Apr 2000:  Dale Earnhardt Sr. is in action during the NAPA Auto Parts 500, Part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, at the California Speedway in Fontana, California. Mandatory Credit: Jon Ferrey  /Allsport

This picture is worth a thousand words. The greatest car to ever take the track was taken away from us in February of 2001. I remember the day clearly in my mind.

I was on my way back home to my Mom's after visiting my father for the weekend. I had just seen the wreck and thought nothing of it.

Sure, when I saw Ken Schraeder wave the EMT's over when he got to Earnhardt's car, I began to wonder if he was okay. I began to wonder more as I watched Dale Jr. jump from his car in the pits and sprint out to his father. Then the telecast went off the air...

On the way home we were listening to a "Sunday Night Country Oldies" station. The DJ came on the air and said it had not been confirmed, but early reports had said that Dale Earnhardt had been pronounced dead. The show went to commercial and when they came back, it had been confirmed.

It can sound stupid to you all if you want it to, but I went numb inside. I had never met the man before. I had never shook his hand. We had never had a conversation. But, at that moment, I had lost my idol. My bed was decked out in an Earnhardt spread. I had an Earnhardt wall. I wore the jacket. I had the shirts. I wore the hat. My life revolved around the No. 3.

I missed the next two days of school too depressed to even get myself out of bed. Again, I know some are reading this and laughing their you-know-whats off, but laugh all you want. We had to take a family trip to Tennessee the Thursday before Rockingham.

By that time, every country song that was sad had been edited to have Earnhardt's voice in it and every radio station in Tennessee made sure to play every one of them at least once an hour. It helped ease my pain and it disgusted me at the same time.

Here is a guy who just lost his life and they immediately think of ways to make money off of it. Maybe that was not their initial thought, but it is what happened. It's just like now when the No. 3 trailer still sits at each race. He is gone and yet still making money for NASCAR.

It has been eight years since that day and I still catch myself looking down the leaderboard to see when the No. 3 Black GM Goodwrench Chevrolet will be making his charge to the front. I do not know if I will ever stop doing that but at least I can watch the race and enjoy it, unlike the first three or four years after the wreck.

I've heard it discussed many times that Jr. should end his career driving the No. 3 Black GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. I do not think that should happen for a few reasons:

1. He is not his father. He never will be. No one ever will be. Baseball retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42. A lot of arenas in basketball retired Jordan's No. 23. Earnhardt's No. 3 should be treated the same.

2. He wants to develop his own legacy. How would you like being constantly compared to someone else? Granted Jr. isn't doing anything to help the comparisons right now since he is driving so bad, but I'm sure he feels the pressure every week when he climbs in the car and just hasn't found a way to deal with it yet.

I could add more reasons but there is no need to. It's been eight years and its time for all of us to admire the man who set the trend for how NASCAR is today, but let it go for good. Please retire the No. 3 and don't let anyone disgrace his legacy by trying to drive his car again. Thanks for reading.