The Frontstretch: Under the Rainbow by Amy Henderson -- Monday July 10, 2006

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Under the Rainbow

That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time · Amy Henderson · Monday July 10, 2006


There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Looking back, maybe there should have been…but the sky was pure summer blue. Then again, maybe that was appropriate, because so were the feelings of everyone at the track on that fateful day.

It's not exactly an anniversary this week, that came on Friday, and a schedule change puts it far away. But this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway will always remind me of the day racing lost Kenny Irwin.

It's been six years since the throttle hung on the rainbow-colored Bell South racecar. The events of the day linger like the edges of a bad dream. We knew it was bad when the rescue workers took their time getting the young driver out. We knew it was bad when the medical helicopter's blades screamed to a crescendo – then stopped in instant silence. When they brought out the car cover. When the BellSouth souvenir trailer closed its oversized windows.

We sat there, at the track, in stunned shock. How could this be that we had lost a second driver here, so soon after losing Adam Petty in a crash so eerily similar that the wall marks had not even been painted over? And yet there it was, the second rainbow of life to end so abruptly, so harshly in turn three. Kenny Irwin's family was notified of the accident, then, his fellow drivers, then, finally, the fans in the grandstand. But we knew. Somehow, by then, we just knew.

Kenny Irwin could have had a brilliant career. Still young, still sometimes too brash and aggressive, Irwin always pushed his racecar to its edge – and sometimes past that edge. His competitors did not always appreciate that side of Irwin's talent, but they respected that it obviously was talent. Reigning Nextel Cup Champion Tony Stewart, who raced with Irwin almost every step of their careers, said of the young driver, “Some guys keep you sharp, but Kenny made me sharper. It was the only chance I had to keep up with him.”

Then, that day it ended. There was a footnote to the sadness, though. The day's on-track activities eventually continued – nobody there would have known what else to do. When the day was over, everybody in the stands got ready to leave. Then everyone, at once, paused, looking out over turn three with amazement. There was a rainbow.

A rainbow, arcing from a cloudless sky, made its end at almost the exact place where the rainbow blue car had impacted hours before. And then another, blazing alongside, came about over the spot where the two rainbow cars of Petty and Irwin had completed their last lap. To me, and those around me, it was as if two young talented drivers were telling everyone they were alright somewhere, racing door-to-door, belly to the ground, flat out for home.

What a potent reminder of two beautiful lives cut far too short.

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Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
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Beth L
07/11/2006 08:03 AM

I remember exactly what I was doing when I found out. I worked at a kiosk that sold NASCAR stuff, and when I got into to work straight from school (yes high school…I’m that young) the guy that was working before me said that some NASCAR driver had died and then made a joke about it. I wanted to kick him. It’s hard to believe we’re at the 6 year mark already.

07/11/2006 08:16 AM

I remember it all to well. I was bbq outside listening to the tv. A sad day in Nascar it was.

07/11/2006 09:41 AM

I was at my office when I heard the news on the radio. I just laid my head down and cried. He was such a spirited guy. Thank you for the nice story. It gave me chills thinking back about that day. Remember when he and Tony got into it and Tony got mad and threw his heat shields at Kenny’s car? That was great.

07/11/2006 09:44 AM

I do remember that-it was a great moment. And how fitting that Tony won that weekend at NHIS too…


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.