An Unfortunate Change
Little did anyone know that a more unexpected change was not far away.
On February 18, 2001, on the last lap of the season-opening Daytona 500 at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sped across the finish line in first and second respectively, ending what had been a thrilling race. Moments before, reporters caught glimpse of an accident in the final corner. Soon after, Miles and I found out that Dale Earnhardt and Ken Schrader were involved in the wreck, their cars having made contact during the frantic late-race moments before ramming head-on into the outside wall and sliding to a stop in the infield grass. Only two hours after Michael Waltrip celebrated his very first Winston Cup victory in 463 career starts, doing so along with his brother Darrell via radio still in Daytona’s press box, Miles and I learned from ESPN that while Schrader had survived the accident, Earnhardt had not.
It was truly a tragic event. Even while Sterling Marlin, who had been running alongside Earnhardt at the time of the accident, was blamed by some fans for causing the crash due to contact the two made after Earnhardt lost control, both Miles and I were able to take the situation better than we originally expected.3 We mourned with the rest of the nation, but refused to let it take away from the sport Earnhardt so dearly loved. After a solemn Dale Earnhardt, Jr. only days later declared that any accusations for the accident would not be tolerated, Miles and I decided to still continue to support the sport, something we were sure that Earnhardt would have wanted all Winston Cup fans to do.
With this still lingering on the mind of every Winston Cup fan, my tenth year as one such fan began.