February 18th this year marked the tenth anniversary of the passing of Dale Earnhardt. This Friday will also be the tenth anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Day, a celebration of the birthday and the life of the racing legend that also serves as one of the biggest fund raising days out of the entire year for the foundation named after the man that still carries on his legacy today.
After that fateful day ten years ago, fans of Earnhardt flocked to the headquarters of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in Mooresville, NC to leave momentos or simply surround themselves with other people who were feeling similar emotions and not sure how to deal with them. The employees at the facility would clean up items left behind every night and move them inside the building, but every item that was left outside the front gate was saved. As the memorial began to shrink discussions began about the first Dale Earnhardt day. The folks at DEI decided to have a celebration of the Intimidator’s life on his birthday, April 29th.
The celebration included displays of race cars, both current and former, greater access to the DEI building than was normally available and even used race tires being distributed to fans who were interested in taking one home. The drivers for DEI were not present because that first day took place on the same day as the tenth race of the 2001 season in California. The fans in attendance at DEI were able to watch the race on a large TV screen that was set up but unfortunately did not see a story book ending.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had the best finish of the day, coming home in third place. Steve Park, DEI’s very first Cup driver, crossed the line in 15th that day while Michael Waltrip crashed out of the race on lap 152 and finished last. Jeff Green was the top finisher for Richard Childress Racing that day, bringing his AOL car home in 21st. Kevin Harvick, who had replaced Earnhardt after his untimely death was 25th while Mike Skinner brought the Lowe’s Chevy home in 32nd.
Ten years later things at DEI are a little bit different than they were in 2001. The company’s Cup operations have been merged with Ginn Motorsports and ultimately Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. However, the passion of the fans has not died and the ultimate goal of the day has not changed. The festivities celebrate the life of Dale Earnhardt and the activities help raise money for the Dale Earnhardt Foundation. Included in the day will be the traditional cupcakes that celebrate what would be the Earnhardt’s 60th birthday. Fans will be able to see video footage of the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Concert that took place in 2003 and they’ll also have the opportunity to purchase specially commissioned guitars celebrating the tribute concert. The guitars will only be available on Friday and can be purchased for $300.
Fans will also be treated to the unveiling of the second generation Intimidator Camaro. The first version was shown to the fans 10 years ago and the new version will be an even more intimidating car than the first generation. The engine is purported to put out 740 horsepower. The car will be auctioned off to raise money for the foundation with tickets available for a $100 donation. The sale of tickets will begin on Friday after the car is unveiled.
The day will also serve as a collection effort for books to be donated to the Dale Earnhardt Book Center at the Salvation Army Center of Hope. The Center is the largest women’s and children’s homeless shelter in the Southeast. Books donated to the center are given to women and children living at the shelter in the name of fans and corporate sponsors.
Ten years ago fans came together to share their feelings about their hero that they lost some two and a half months earlier. It was an event that offered the chance for healing, closure and just comfort for people who had at least one thing in common: their love for the driver of the No. 3. Today the building may not house Cup series race cars but it is still the dream of Dale Earnhardt and it is still the gathering point every year for his fans to share the birthday of the “Man in Black”.
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