Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ever Lost a Hero?

Something along a different line for tonight.

Ever Lost a Hero?
Sometimes you read a story that is able to capture a feeling or thought you have had for a long time but could never put into words or even a complete thought. Today I came across and article at ESPN.com that almost had me in a breakdown mode at work it hit so hard. This post will be about NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt and while I do understand most find NASCAR boring, that really in only on the periphery of what I am going to write about.

My hero was Dale Earnhardt.

I know we are not really supposed to have heroes. My era of kids were taught time and again that sports heroes were a dangerous bet. I was aware that looking up to a person that performs was dumb. Too bad. Dale captured my attention, respect, admiration, and awe in the early 1990's and the black number 3 car was my avenging angel.

I think maybe Dale reminded my of my father. My parents were divorced when I was young and I did not see my Dad too much (poor me...). We would go fishing or I would work on the railroad with him but both activities were spotty at best. Dale Earnhardt talked like my dad and his attitude was almost identical. I imagine that was part of it. My father died in 1996 so Dale reminded me even more of my dad after that.

Most of it was Dale said what he meant and meant what he said. He was probably the most gifted driver I have ever seen, but he was never above anything or anyone. Dale was tough as nails and his effort level was legendary, a trait I have built into my own life. In 1996 after a horrific crash at Talledega Earnhardt had a broken sternum and collarbone. The next week the race was at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earnhardt got in the car. After 6 laps the pain was unbearable and Dale came out of the car. The interview below shows Dale as I know him (3:50 mark until end):

I mean, he has a BROKEN sternum and collarbone and he looks and sounds like he was going to cry that he had to get out of the car!

I wanted to be like Dale. I wanted to work as hard as I could. I wanted to be the best at whatever I was doing. I wanted to be honest and never bend myself to fit something I did not believe in. Yes, he was my hero.

Writer Jeff MacGregor pens a masterpiece that somehow sums up my feeling of loss over Dale Earnhardt and how I have struggled to watch NASCAR since he has been gone. A few excerpts that hit me very hard:
Dale Earnhardt and the Power of 3
What happens when your hero doesn't come back? The biggest star in NASCAR has been dead 10 years. I never met Dale Earnhardt, but I know his ghost.

And so do you...

..Dale Earnhardt was rough as a cob, a bastard and a black hat by acclamation and consensus, and people loved him for it. Loved him desperately.
Jimmie Johnson is an iPhone, a Facebook page, a frictionless consumer culture. Jimmie Johnson is a brand strategy.
Dale Earnhardt was working class rage. Dale Earnhardt was bootstraps. Dale Earnhardt was a hundredweight of seed and half a box of shotgun shells. Dale Earnhardt was a hard right to the foreman's jaw the day you walked off the job.

A long time ago upstate I asked a NASCAR fan why Dale Earnhardt was his hero. He was a working man. He looked over my shoulder for a while, then looked right into me.

"He drove the way I feel."
There is much more at the link.

My hero was Dale Earnhardt.

Have a good night.

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