It was sad to read a story this past week that Randy Dorton’s widow is filing a lawsuit in the aftermath of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash. The lawsuit alleges that John Hendrick forced the pilots to fly to the airport near Martinsville instead of the Danville airport that was further from the track because they would be late for the race. It also points out that 27 other planes aborted landings at the airport and holds Hendrick Motorsports liable for actions that led to the crash.
Reading this news made me reflect back to the events of five years ago. Everyone has been running retrospectives this week about the passing of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt. In the aftermath of Dale’s death, there was extensive speculation that a broken seat belt contributed to his death. There was so much speculation and blame that Bill Simpson resigned from his position with the company he founded. In the final report on Earnhardt’s death there was a note that the belt may have broken but it was not blamed for his death.
Everyone remembers the dispute over the autopsy photos. Teresa Earnhardt and the Earnhardt estate had to sue to prevent the Orlando Sentinel from getting access to the autopsy photos of Dale Earnhardt. For the most part, that is the only lawsuit associated with Dale’s death. There was one over life insurance and the movie "3", but those really didn’t reflect on his death at all. The things that we are left with are bronze statues in Kannapolis and Daytona, a foundation that promotes wildlife, children and the environment, and lasting memories that are stirred every time someone sees the stylized 3 or GM Goodwrench.
People were reacting similarly to Randy Dorton’s passing. The engine building championship was named in his honor. Scholarships were set up to remember his name. Jimmie Johnson bought a Dorton engine and had a car built around it to remember his friend. People had nothing but good things to say about Randy. Unfortunately, the same thing is not going to be said for his wife. Diane Dorton claims "the lawsuit isn’t about money. It’s about finding the truth about what happened to Randy, what happened onboard the plane, addressing accountability and making future airplane travel safer for her friends in NASCAR."
Mrs. Dorton better realize that, if those were her true intentions, there are several ways she could go about it. The NTSB would no doubt like another voice on capital hill for crash victims. NASCAR would certainly cooperate with her efforts to form a foundation or support group that was designed to improve private aircraft safety. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association would certainly love to have a high profile spokesperson beat their drum to ensure that private aircraft flight is safer everyday.
Instead, she chose to file a very public lawsuit seeking financial damages that will besmirch the name of a member of one of racing’s leading families. It is a slap in the face to the head of that family who paid her husband’s bonus and half of his annual salary the year after he passed away. A man who purchased a car and paid the insurance for the woman even though he didn’t have to. A friend who made help available to the woman whenever she might have needed it. A person who has donated millions of dollars to various charitable organizations, and done all sorts of good deeds, no matter how public they may have been. Few people know what all Rick Hendrick did for Diane Dorton. There is no doubt her life is better because of the fact that her late husband worked for the man. Mrs. Dorton should think long and hard about the completely unnecessary pain she is going to bring upon herself and hundreds, if not thousands, of people who still feel grief over the loss on that Virginia mountainside. I hope the potential windfall is worth it.
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