As we are getting into speed weeks at Daytona, it is on every one’s mind that this is the 10th anniversary of the passing of Dale Earnhardt. Which has lead to a lot of reflection and debate among NASCAR fans and even people within the sport itself. One thing is certain, the sport is infinitely safer today than it was 10 years ago. But some would tell you that the sport has lost some of it’s most rabid fan base and some of it’s allure since Dale’s passing.
While the fans who love the sport will always be there to watch and enjoy the sport, in the years since Earnhardt’s passing, it is easy to see that the sport has gone more corporate and in turn attracted more white collar fans than previously. Dale Earnhardt was loved by a big faction of the blue collar fan base, because he said what he wanted and did what he wanted. He didn’t care about image or being politically correct. In the years since his tragic demise, the sport has changed considerably, some changes for better and some to the demise of the sport.
The sport will always have Earnhardt to thank for the safety advancements that have been made mandatory. Plus he was the first real driver to merchandise himself in a way that is common place now. But there will always be that hole, that no one can ever fill. Earnhardt was a truly special presence on and around the track. If Earnhardt spoke, everyone listened and that is not the case anymore. Drivers on the circuit today are too worried about their image and have become so corporate, that there is no fire and passion. When there tends to be a rift between drivers and it gets physical, NASCAR does everything it can to squash it and keep it from gaining steam. This would make Earnhardt embarrassed beyond all belief, he was old school and believed that if you couldn’t shout it out, then you could punch it out and shake hands afterwards.
While NASCAR has gained in popularity and is a better sport today than it was 10 years ago. I firmly believe that the sport wouldn’t have gone as corporate and image concise had Earnhardt not been killed that fateful day. In a sport that was bred from old moonshiners running from the law, to the now whitewashed politically correct pretty boy drivers like Jeff Gordon, the sport has always been ever changing. But the legacy of Earnhardt couldn’t keep it popular to the fans that have roots in the sports. While NASCAR can thank Earnhardt for a lot of things he did to better the sport in life and again in death. He would be ashamed to see the way the sport has gone since he passed, gone are the days of the country boy driver who fights like hell to win.
The lasting legacy for Earnhardt will be the safety improvements, but sadly everything else he did has been forgotten and as the sport moves forward, it has lost it’s old moonshine roots and now has become a corporate racing circuit. This would make the intimidatormad as hell and brings tears to a true NASCAR fans eye. So, as we sit down to watch this years Daytona 500, let’s remember Dale for the great driver and powerful force he was within the sport. His presence will always be missed, and his legacy will always live on.