When there’s a serious accident in auto racing, there are sometimes signs – signals – that it’s really bad.
When A.J. Michaels of Syracuse died at Oswego Speedway in 1990, Bill Foley was the infield announcer working the race. Describing the scene as the safety crew did its work, I can still hear Foley’s words, "A.J.’s looking straight ahead." I knew right then that Michaels was gone.
Same thing on Feb. 18, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt hit the wall on the last lap of the Daytona 500 and slid down into the infield off the fourth turn. If Darrel Waltrip, who was one of the TV announcers, said it once, he said it three or four times:
"Dale’s okay, isn’t he?" and you just knew.
Yes, it’s been 10 years since that sunny Sunday afternoon in Florida when what looked like a routine, somewhat slow, loss of control and resulting crash turned out to be one of the worst days in the history of NASCAR.
Dale Earnhardt, the absolute biggest and baddest star in U.S. stock car racing, died as the result of that accident. I’m going to write a newspaper column closer to the date of his death to discuss Earnhardt’s impact on the sport and the effect he had on people generally but the reason for this blog post today is to let you know that Speed Channel is planning a documentary tribute and from the sounds of it you shouldn’t miss it.
Entitled The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, it will be shown for the first time on Feb. 11 at 7:30 EDT.
Michael Waltrip won that Daytona 500 – his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory in 463 starts – and was driving for Earnhardt’s team that day. This program marks the first time on TV that Waltrip has talked about that day.
In addition to tracing Earnhardt’s movements up to the race, the special – among other things – will also explore his history at Daytona, his relationship with car owner Richard Childress and his friendship with driver Neil Bonnett, who was killed at Daytona in 1994.
As well as the premiere on Feb. 11, the special will air on numerous occasions during Daytona Speedweeks, including the actual anniversary, Feb. 18, at 10 p.m. following the Camping World Series truck race.