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By Rhonda Wilson - Staff Columnist
Dale Earnhardt 1951-2001 - Race with the Angels Dale (My thoughts and prayers go out to the Earnhardt family)

We all know that Dale Earnhardt was the greatest driver to ever strap into a Winston Cup car. There are places all over the Internet, television and newspapers that tell his stats, his accomplishments, and expound on his driving style. But there is something about Dale that people are forgetting about…that something is his fans.

Dale has more fans than any other driver. I don't say this because I did a scientific study on the subject or looked at the collectibles numbers. I say this because I have gone to races and have seen the sea of black shirts, the black hats and the #3 flags flying everywhere in the infield.

I personally was not a Dale Earnhardt fan. But I can tell you that I loved to watch what he could do with a racecar. You could not help but respect and be in awe of the man. He was THE MAN!! Last October at Talladega I was yelling right along with all of you when Dale came from 18th to win.

To all of you out there that are Dale fans, I express my sincere condolences to you. From experience, after losing Davey Allison, I can tell you this is going to be the hardest thing you have gone through in your racing life. Aside from the death of a family member, the death of your hero is the next worst thing that can happen to you.

Those of you who have followed this sport for many years, and even some of you new fans who chose Dale as your driver, know the pride you feel when you put on that black T-shirt and hat and get ready for the race; when that #3 car pulls out on the track and half the stands jump up to cheer. It is a pride beyond any other, to be a fan of "The Intimidator", "The Man in Black".

Don't let anyone kid you; these next few weeks are going to be hard. Every where you look there are going to be stories about Dale, television specials, radio programs, the list goes on. This weekend at Rockingham is going to be the worst. The media is going to focus on Dale's death because that is what they are paid to do. I feel sorry for the other drivers that have to deal with the death of their colleague, friend and mentor. They have a job to do and that job is racing, but the media is going to make that job even harder.

Take some advise from someone who knows. Watch everything they show, listen to every radio program, read every article and mourn. Whether you are a man or a woman, child or teenager, don't hold those tears back. Shed them for Dale. It is a process you need to go through to find whatever comforts you can.

I'm not a doctor, I'm not a psychiatrist, I'm just a fan that has gone through it before and had to go through it again on Sunday and Monday. I spent a long trip home from a friend's house in San Diego on Sunday afternoon after watching the race; most of that trip was made in tears. I tried to work Monday and had to come home before half the day was gone. My husband and my parents were worried, but they knew I had to go through this valley before I could come out on the other side. I watched whatever I could find about Dale on television and cried my tears. I went to bed last night with a small sense of peace. I had done my most serious mourning, now I had to start the healing process.

This racing season is not going to be easy for you. You are going to think that you can never watch another race again as long as you live. You will even seriously think about selling those race tickets you have for whatever races you planned to attend this year. Don't act too quickly. Give yourself some time. This sounds like an old cliché, but Dale would not want you to give up on this sport that you and he loved so much. Watching and going to the races is the best medicine. Meeting with other Dale Earnhardt fans at the track, mourning together and reminiscing about your favorite memories is the best thing you can do.

I hope I don't sound condescending. I just want you to know that you CAN get through this. True, it will never be the same for you. Dale Earnhardt can never be replaced. It may be a long time before you can ever choose another favorite driver, if ever. But remember, you were lucky enough to have "known" him. There are new fans out there that will only hear the stories and watch the replays. His legacy will live on through you, his fans. You will be the ones to tell those stories and share those memories with the next generation of race fan.

I think part of my healing process is writing this open letter to you, his fans. I hope that in some small way I can help you get through this trying time. I hope that you will realize that there are others out there that know what you are going through and that we want you to know we feel your pain. Those of you who were not Earnhardt fans but have friends and relatives that were, reach out to them, whether by phone, email or just a visit. Let them know you are thinking about them. Let them know you will be there for them if they want to sit and talk about Dale. Help them to get through this trying time. Be a strong shoulder for them to cry on…believe me, they are going to need it.

Then fans, when you are ready, celebrate the life of Dale Earnhardt…and just think what a grand celebration that will be.

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