RPW Column: Where Were You On February 18, 2001 When You Heard “The News”

Column By: BRITTANY NUTILE / RPW – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – If you were a fan of NASCAR, you were either at the Daytona 500, watching the race at home or probably catching the action with some chips and dip at a 500 party.

Some people remember everything about that day.  Some were too young and some, like the NASCAR drivers, who were there, right in the moment, racing with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr…the day the tragic moment happened.

Going into this year’s 500, the 20th anniversary of Dale’s death was a very popular topic during media availability.  Some drivers,  like Kevin Harvick, who’s career pretty much rocketed right after the accident, remembered a lot about Dale.  He was the replacement driver for Richard Childress Racing.  In this year’s race, Kurt Busch actually was the only driver today that was on track that faitful day.

Mike Joy, the lead commentator on-air for FOX Sports, was calling the network’s first ever event that fateful day.  He was also on air for the 2020 race when Ryan Newman had his accident…an accident that almost took his life. Thankfully, Ryan was able to recover.

His recovery was thanks to the enhanced equipment and safety that the drivers have and all the new technology built into these racecars.  Joy talked in an interview about how Dale Earnhardt’s death led to NASCAR being safer.  The sanctioning body put in the necessary features they feel were needed.  Since driver #3 was lost, not one fatality has taken place.

“Since that day in Daytona, no driver in any of NASCAR’s three national series, has loss their life due to a crash” Joy explained.  “In the 10 months prior to the 500, NASCAR lost three fairly high profiled drivers, due to crashes.  They really didn’t understand why.  A lot of people felt that the cars were too stiff and were transmitting too much impact force for the driver.”

After Dale’s death, NASCAR went through different channels in order to make it the cars safer for the driver.  They didn’t want this to happen ever again.

Mike also talked about what NASCAR did to improve their safety and what they required the drivers and cars to have in order to race.

“NASCAR finally took a leadership role in driver safety,” he said.  “The result of NASCAR putting in the safety aspects were full-containment seats, the Han’s Device or some sort of head & neck restraint, soft walls and improved rolled cages.”

NASCAR is still improving each and every year.  They also put a bar in front of the driver called the “Newman bar.”  That was a result of a crash that Ryan Newman had at Talladega a few years back where his car ended up flipping over.  That bar, also contributed to saving Newman’s life in his accident last year at Daytona.

All of these changes are for the betterment of NASCAR.  All have resulted in no driver being lost in the sport since that unforgettable 2001 Daytona 500.  The sanctioning body is constantly making changes and still has things they can improve on.  However, they are doing whatever they can to make NASCAR, as a sport, better.  You can definitely see their changes, and it’s helping a lot.

We remember Dale each and every year on the anniversary of his passing.  This year, it’s been 20 years and its very important to remember the impact he had on this sport, both on and off the track.  Dale Sr.’s legacy lives with everyone who is in the sport of NASCAR and all the fans.  Love him or hate him, all respected him.

Anyone in this sport remembers Dale.  Every year, the Daytona 500 is a time that enjoy the industry’s biggest race, and we remember the “Intimidator.”  We remember all he accomplished.  We remember his life lost, but no matter what, we remember that NASCAR is safer because of him…in more ways than one.

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