By Chanda Healton
The year 2001 was tragic not only for The U.S.A with 9/11 but also for NASCAR fans with the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr on February 18, 2011. Many old-school fans believe NASCAR died with the Intimidator. Today Earnhardt would have been 66 years young, so as a birthday present to fans old and new, to those who loved him and those who once booed, let's go back to the fateful Daytona 500 that took the ledgend before his time. Let's pretend Dale is still here and celebrating number 66 today. (I bet he would be on a deep sea fishing trip somewhere. Maybe with Michael Waltrip!)
Now I know what ifs or buts are never good, but so many fans never got to see The Intimidator on track. They can only imagine how great he was through the stories fans tell. For others, myself included, Dale's death led to a life changing decision that they may or may not regret. Do you remember where you were when they announced Dale Sr had passed away? I was in Charlotte, NC trying to decide whether to come home and give up my dream of being a NASCAR Writer or stick it out a little longer. We had been there about a month at the time with no luck finding jobs. That night, as Dale's death was announced, we decided to take what money we had left and return home to Indiana. We passed Dale's shop on our Greyhound home and I remember thinking how dreams and legends die on the same day. I wrote a poem called Drafting With An Angel on the way back to Indiana, a 22 year old heartbroken kid.
A poem I wrote on my way back to Indiana after Dale Earnhart's death.
Just for a moment let's pretend. I asked NASCAR Fans the following questions on Facebook and have taken their best responses.
If Dale were still alive what would Nascar look like today? Would he still be out there but running in the back like Cope? Would DEI and Jr have won championships together or would Jr have still left for Hendrick? Also would Jeffery Earnhardt be in the crap he is in today or would we be making comments about grandpa saving his career and giving him a ride? (Much like many do with the Dillon!) Would Jimmie be a 7 time champion?
Here are what the fans said:
Clayton Andrew Harris says, " Its really hard to tell what happen, but here is my thoughts. Dale Earnhardt would of retired i say 2001 or 2002. Dale would focused on his team DEI, making it a better team and a championship team. Dale Jr would be a 2 or 3 time Champion, Jeffery would eventually race for his grandpa team, probably started in cup around 2015. (Just a guess) Since DEI was basically started for Dale's kids, i say his grandkids would be evolve as well. Jimmie Johnson would not be a 7 time champion"
Chris Wills says, "I usually don't do what ifs. But since this was my hero I'll throw in my opinion. Dale would have drove 3 to 5 more years. Staying very competitive. I don't think he ever got number 8 though. Dei would have been solid, junior would have won at least one cup if got two and could have had around 45 wins. Senior would have kept the stability of the sport in tack even through changing times. We still wouldn't see the times of the mid to late 90s....but the quality and the issues we are facing today wouldn't be near as bleak. It's unfortunate. Happy birthday Dale Earnhardt. I love you. I miss you."
Brian Murray says, "I think the safety improvements would have come either way. Sr wouldn't have gotten #8 and I think the NASCAR post season was inevitable.
Jr would have stayed at DEI, nabbed a few Championships, and would still be in the #8. Truex would have taken over for Park."
Connor Allen feels that "He would have retired well by now. DEI would still be a functional team. Jeffery would no doubt have that ride. And Jimmie would still be a 7 time champion!"
It's nice to remember and to look back. It's fun to ask what if that Daytona 500 had been rained out and ran on the next day or what if Dale's engine had quit and forced him to retire from the race early, but the truth is our sport was changing anyways. The Chase would have happened with or without Dale there and for those not supportive of segment racing, I believe Dale would have loved it.
Dave Mast says, "Jr would have never left to go to the evil company. Sr would t have let him."
Tyson Frank says," If Dale was alive NASCAR wouldn't be so filled with chickens... Jr would have stayed at DEI..."
Bill Munroe feels, "Dale would have bitch slapped some common sense into "Brian "Brainfart" France, we wouldn't have the chase or this crap segment racing."
Tyler Rogge feals the same and says, "If Dale Earnhardt was still alive Dale would punch Brian France right in the face telling him he's a dumbass that's what I think and yes Dale Junior would have won a championship and still be in Dei car."
Coty Fox feels, "He wouldn't be in the back with Cope. He'd probably be running some road 24 sports cars."
Fox may be telling the truth on that one. Paul Nolte says "Dale was planning to leave NASCAR to go sports car racing. So the question is what would road racing be like if he were alive?"
Good question Paul. Good question. Leave your thoughts on that in the comments!