2001, The Year That NASCAR Nation Stood Still

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst ISeptember 11, 2009

Feb. 18, 2001.

Expectations run high, as each driver comes out of their off-season slumber to get ready for the biggest race of the year.

Daytona has always been a track that not only challenges the driver’s mentality, but also their keen sense of judgment and their hunger to take the risky chances knowing that a victory here is worth its weight in gold.

Daytona has always been a track that takes disappointment in a very personal way, and this year would be no different.

What was about to transpire on this very typical race day, would always be remembered as one of the most shocking and saddest days in all of NASCAR history.

Daytona has always been the center of attention whenever the word NASCAR is mentioned, and it’s for good reason because of the rich history that she has left us in her wake.

As we cheered and stood on our feet along with the 200,000 plus fans that were watching in amazement, it was because Daytona was about to give a driver the biggest thrill of his life, while at the same time bringing the entire NASCAR world to a standstill in a matter of a few short seconds.

It was on this day that Daytona would be generous enough to give a driver who had gone winless his whole career, the chance to shine and be able to stand above the rest.

Michael Waltrip would finally take center stage, and capture his first Winston cup win after 400+ winless starts.

The words of his brother Darrell, crying as he announced the last lap told the whole story of the many years that the Waltrip family had patiently waited for. Those were certainly tears of joy and not sorrow.

Tears of many years while watching his younger brother make start after start, while racing his heart out trying desperately to get his first NASCAR win.

But today would finally be Mikey’s day; a day when the Waltrip family would get their chance to celebrate one of the most important wins known to any NASCAR driver, A Daytona 500 Victory.

To the Waltrip family and the fans who were watching, this day is what racing is all about, and it was time to start the celebrations-so they thought.

The fans were cheering as Waltrip pulled his car around to victory lane, while at the same time his brother Darrell kept repeating that, “He finally did it!”

Then all of a sudden before anyone knew what was happening, Darrell’s joy changed to disbelief. “Is he alright,” were his words? “Somebody check to make sure Dale is okay.”

But it was the solemn look on Kenny Schrader’s face as he walked away from the wreckage, while signaling for the EMT’s that almost confirmed what the racing was not hoping for.

As Dale Jr climbed out of his race car, what would happen next is something that none of us would ever hope to have to ever encounter.

Especially when it was just moments earlier that Dale Jr. was watching his dad in his rearview mirror doing what he had never done before – blocking, so that he and Mikey could race for the win.

And now here he was looking at his dad’s lifeless body, just lying there instead of celebrating in victory lane the biggest win that any team owner could ever imagine.

Then to the shock of the entire racing community came the words that all auto racing fans, as well as drivers would hope they would never have to hear.

They were the words of Mike Helton telling the auto racing world, "Undoubtedly this is one of the toughest announcements I've personally had to make. After the accident in Turn four at the end of the Daytona 500, today we have lost a legend. NASCAR has lost Dale Earnhardt Sr.”

The asphalt monster took one of NASCAR’s biggest stars, in a wicked display of selfishness; Daytona would have it no other way when she took the life of Dale Earnhardt Sr.

For some unseen reason, Daytona felt that no other track would have the honor of gobbling up the sports biggest star.

Fans around the world would go into shock and mourning. We couldn’t believe that NASCAR had finally made it to National T.V., and was about to flow into the mainstream of our everyday lives.

But now the sports biggest star was gone. In the twinkling of an eye, Dale Earnhardt Sr would no longer be part of the big picture. It would have been the biggest news story of the year – no other news story came close until…..

September, 11, 2001.

Just when the racing world was beginning to come to grips over the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. life as most of us fans know it would continue, even though the sport was without its biggest star.

And the American people, who enjoyed the sport, would begin to look for the next driver that we could call our hero since to some of us Earnhardt was that driver.

So news story after news story continued to plague our television airwaves, as was the norm while living in the United States of America.

There was always something going on, and our faithful news crews always seemed to know exactly where to be in order to bring us the best coverage possible.

Day in and day we got up, went to work or tended to our daily chores and basically went about our daily lives.

But once again not only would this news event shock the racing world, but it would reach the ends of the earth while shaking up the entire world that we live in.

What transpired on this very gruesome and tragic day, was an act that not even Hollywood itself could have scripted.

Not only would this be the biggest news story of the year, but it would easily be remembered for years to come as the biggest story of the century.

Many people who never knew what was happening – normal everyday working class citizens, doing what they were used to, minding their own business thinking that the day would be just like the rest.

But little did they know that this would be a day that our President would take to the airwaves with this horrifying message; “Fellow Americans” were the Presidents words. “The World Trade Center has just been terrorized. Two commercial airplanes have just flown through them”.

Just the thought of not only hearing these words, but also watching the attacks’ as they were shown time after time on television, was enough to set off a time bomb of hatred toward those who were involved.

But at the same time, many Americans took the time to say “I love you” to those friends and family members realizing just how precious our time is here on earth. On this very tragic day, not just one life was lost, but instead MANY innocent lives were lost and all of this for the sake of terrorism, jealousy, but most of all for the sake of hatred towards mankind.

It was the day that the world stood still. Not only was the World Trade Center destroyed, but the Pentagon was also attacked, along with a fourth plane when the crew as well as some of the passengers attempted to retake control of the plane which eventually crashed in a Pennsylvania.

The fourth plane was headed towards Washington D.C., but thanks to the many heroes’ that were onboard, it never reached its destination even though it cost them their lives.

This was a very tragic day when for a few moments, While looking back since today is the eight year anniversary of the attacks, try to remember the ones who paid with there lives.

The ones who never knew that this day would be their last, that this day would forever be remembered as a day that terrorism ran rampant around our country.

But most of all it would be remembered as a day to honor the heroes, who without fear and not knowing, went in to save those that they never even knew.

In a moments notice, one act of evil thinking quickly changed into an act of kindness, courage, and love towards fellow man.

The N.Y.F.D. who lost many, as well as the brave men and woman who tried desperately to rescue those people, which were most likely complete strangers.

But to them the only thing that mattered was there were human lives that needed to be rescued, lives of those who would never again get to see their loved ones.

They paid the ultimate price which was more precious than gold itself. They paid with their lives never knowing the buildings would eventually collapse.

All that was left was a huge concrete morgue, encased with the remains of the human race.

There were many nations that were portrayed in that building all working together, towards world peace.

And by the evil act of one person, it was all taken away. On that dreadful day we lost Our Nation, and some our biggest stars who gave their lives so that we as a Nation could live on having to live in fear again.

So as NASCAR nation, lets give it up today for the fallen heroes, to those who lost there lives doing the unthinkable while putting aside all their differences for the sake of mankind.



The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.