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Commentary
‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’

The Intimidator Raced Through Our Lives Too Quickly

By Michael Barrick
February 20, 2001

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” --Psalm 139:16 NIV.

“It’s fate. There’s nothing nobody could do about it.” -- Richard Petty, commenting a few weeks after the death of his grandson, Adam Petty, in a racing accident last year.

(AgapePress) - Dale Earnhardt, when explaining why he had the priorities that he did -- God first, then family, and both before business -- said it was simple: “Life’s too short. You’re here today and gone tomorrow.”

Today, that’s too true.

Michael Waltrip, the winner of the race in which Mr. Earnhardt died, was philosophical the day after the race. At a NASCAR news conference, he said that he couldn’t wait to have his new car owner -- Mr. Earnhardt -- come over and hug his neck to congratulate him on his first victory in nearly 500 starts.

But he never came. Instead, said Waltrip, he was at that very moment in heaven, sharing a hug with his father. “And that’s not so bad,” said Waltrip.

Only a Christian can have such hope. And from talking with folks who knew Mr. Earnhardt, he had become a Christian years ago. So we have the confidence that Mr. Earnhardt will live forever in the presence of the Lord.

But even that knowledge can’t stop the hurting, for he’s no longer in our presence.

I didn’t know Mr. Earnhardt. I had only met him a couple of times -- in the pits or garage before the races in Charlotte. Still, the news of his death stunned and then deeply saddened me.

Why stunned, when we know we all must die? Because as one fan put it, “Superman is dead.” Mr. Earnhardt, it seemed, just always managed to tempt -- but escape -- death.

Why saddened? Well, a number of reasons.

I am an Ironhead fan. For the past 20 years, I’ve had to spend countless Monday mornings defending the # 3 car with the standard, “That’s racin’.” Even though I never met him, I defended The Intimidator as if he was my brother.

I was such a fan because I welcomed his approach to life -- “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Actually, for him, it was “Get out of the way -- and follow.”

I was such a fan because with Mr. Earnhardt, you got what you saw. While he was a genius at marketing, the key to his marketing success was not his brilliance, but his personality. He was genuine. The fans knew it.

I was such a fan because he was “old school,” as my 16-year-old son says. I’m old school too (at least by NASCAR standards). I felt like NASCAR, in its zealous marketing efforts, has tried to sanitize the sport too much. What they seemed to forget is that it was a wild 1979 Daytona 500 -- fistfights and all -- that launched NASCAR into national prominence. Mr. Earnhardt was a product of -- even epitomized -- the “old school” approach to racing.

I was a fan because Mr. Earnhardt was equally comfortable with the boxed fried chicken crowd as he was with the big money folks.

I was a fan because the Intimidator would tell competitors, “I’m coming to get you.” Then he’d do it. Like my daddy always told me, “If you can do it, it’s not bragging.”

I was a fan, because he was simply the best -- and he was a role model. Even though he was ornery and mischievous, he never embarrassed himself, his family, his sponsors or his sport. In this day of gangster athletes, Mr. Earnhardt was refreshing.

In short, I am sad because Ironhead was a hero -- he was my hero. And now he’s dead.

Our Christian faith does offer counsel in this situation. It is, as the Psalmist and Richard Petty said, the way it is supposed to be. Right now, though, I don’t feel like being philosophical about it. I feel like crying.

Michael Barrick is the Editor of The Triad World, a weekly Christian newspaper in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be contacted at michael.barrick@thetriadworld.com.
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