Friday, February 18, 2011

Earnhardt Unplugged

I love telling this story.  One February afternoon, on a Tuesday a little over ten years ago, I was in Mooresville, NC on business.  It was the week following the Daytona 500.  For you non-NASCAR fans, the Daytona 500 is a big deal.  The sport wakes up with a bang in February after a long winter nap, and the 500 is The Breakfast of Champions - the first (and biggest) race of the year.  Mooresville, on this day, was buzzing like a beehive.  The ruling king of the sport, Dale Earnhardt, had not yet left us.  His home and his race teams were all based in Mooresville.  NASCAR was on a hot streak and Mooresville, being the headquarters for a big chunk of the sport's best teams, was Grand Central Station.

The afternoon was winding down and I was coming down Coddle Creek Highway, going toward Mooresville, when I realized that I had let the time slip up on me.  I needed to be back home and there was no way I was going to get there on time.  Nothing to do but hit the gas and hope I didn't run up on a State Trooper.  The highway was wide open, things were going great and I'm sure I was driving too fast.  "Maybe", I thought, "if I catch a few breaks, I won't be shamefully late."
Then, just before I got to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., I hit a snag.  The NCDOT was in the process of widening the highway in front of his headquarters to three lanes.  Dump trucks and asphalt pavers loomed in the near distance.  As I came closer, however, I saw that two lanes were still open and there was no annoying flag man with one of those Stop/Go signs lying in wait to torture me.  So - not lifting - I continued on my personal mission to set a new land speed record across Iredell County.

Then just before reaching DEI, a car pulled out in front of me going about 5MPH.  I'm not kidding and not exaggerating.  It was a very old car.  Aren't they always?  This one looked better than most, I will say.  It was an old 1930's Chevy, shiny and clean.  It looked like "papaw" had never driven it over 5MPH in his LIFE, and today was no exception.  I had to slam the brakes hard to keep from rear-ending it.  Who DOES this kind of thing?  They obviously see you coming.  They obviously know how fast you are going.  And they evidently DON'T CARE.  Drives me crazy and always has.

So, between the oncoming traffic and the NCDOT boys, I was momentarily stuck behind "papaw" in the old blue car - unable to pass.  We commenced to CRAWLING down the highway in front of Earnhardt's place, with me his highly ticked-off prisoner.  To tell you the truth, I briefly considered bumping him off the road.  Poor old guy, minding his own business, and I'm mad enough to punt him into the ditch.

Then - as if he hadn't insulted me enough already, he suddenly turned right into the parking lot of DEI.  No signal, no brake lights - just TURN HERE NOW.  Those of you who know me know that I love the Lord and I generally behave myself - even under duress.  But when I swerved to go around him, my Sunday School training went out the window.  With my left hand on the steering wheel and my right hand free, I made ready to leave him with a very un-ladylike one-fingered salute.  Pulling just even with him as I passed, I made SURE there was eye contact, too - just so he knew that I knew that...well, you get my drift.

Turns out, I didn't have to worry about that eye contact.  Dale Earnhardt was dying laughing as he turned and looked ME in the eye.  And God is merciful.  I didn't have that salute up where he could see it yet.  All I could manage was to drag my gaping jaw up off the floorboard, which made him laugh even harder as he waved and pulled into the parking lot, sending me on my way.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the day that he died on the track in Daytona.  I'm sad but honored to mark it with this story, and I'm looking forward to telling my grandson (he's due any day now) of the time that I came within a hair of shoving Dale Earnhardt off the road for driving TOO SLOW.

Today is Countdown Friday.


  1. Awesome story, Beth!

    Mike Irwin
    Home of the Stock Car Gazette

  2. OH BETH - this is the best...just like you!

  3. Fantastic story..thanks for sharing