In the year 2000, a new decade began. A decade of fresh, new ideas but also a decade of broken hearts began as the new 10-year span set off.
Once 2000 breezed by, the new year of 2001 came up. Daytona was set, and the world had their eyes on their favorite driver, each waiting to see who crossed the finish line first.
It was Michael Waltrip, followed by the young Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his father guarding from behind them. Into Turn Four they went, the herd of cars barreling through the turn, knowing the finish line was almost within sight. That was of course until the world paused, time stopped and jaws dropped.
Dale Earnhardt Sr., driver of the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet had been turned head on into the wall—a wreck which claimed his life soon after. The celebration in the booth for the first Daytona 500 win for Michael Waltrip was slowed to a crawl as people gazed in agony of the disaster that had just occurred.
"This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I've ever personally had to make," Mike Helton, NASCAR President said to a crowd of press, "But after the accident in Turn Four at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt."
The news shook hearts of fans all over the world. Some watched for change, while some grieved through dismissing themselves from the NASCAR world.
With the 2011 Daytona 500 coming up, the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death, it's time to realize what changes have been made since that awful day, almost a decade ago.
The HANS Device, a device with the close-to-same task as the Hutchens Device, wasn't made a critical part of protective racing equipment until around the time after the death of Earnhardt. The "Head And Neck Support" prevents the driver's head from snapping back in the result of a head-on crash, one of the main killers in racing. While the device was already around during Earnhardt's time, it was not always used as many drivers said it was "uncomfortable" or "restrictive."
Earnhardt himself stated that he felt as though it was a "noose" around his neck and would "sooner hang him rather than save him" in the event of a crash. Though, without the tragedy of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s death, the racing world may have never come to realize what a life saver such a simple device truly was.
SAFER Barriers, also known as the Steel And Foam Energy Reduction barriers, also came into play after Earnhardt's death. Back in the day, when a car got collected or slammed into the wall of a race track, the impact to the driver's body, let alone the car, could be anywhere from minor to traumatic. By 2006, racetracks all over the country were being introduced to the life saving track modification, that would soon be required at almost all NASCAR-sanctioned tracks.
We see the changes that have occurred, and we watch the evolving series around it. His name is known in households all over the country. It is because of his grand reputation and the huge field of hearts that followed him from track to track that Dale Earnhardt is the reason for the changes that have given his son and friends the safety on track they have today.