Show me a moment of my free time recently and it was probably spent wearing out my DVR replaying “The Day,” the riveting SPEED TV account of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s last stand at Daytona.
It’s an amazing moment-by-moment review of the goings-on. If you didn’t hold back tears when a choked-up Ken Schrader recalled walking up to Earnhardt’s car — expecting a BS session over last lap bad luck and instead seeing a good friend’s mortality first-hand –you just don’t have a heart.
But the most relevant part of the special came much earlier, when the interview Darrell Waltrip conducted with Earnhardt just three days before the 500 played. DW started asking, “How do you feel about Dale Earnhardt…”
Before Waltrip could get all the words out of his mouth, Earnhardt chimed in with, “A lot better today than I did several years ago, because of family, because of my life, because I think I’m a better person than I used to be.”
For “The Intimidator,” it was a moment drenched in humility. He was falling on his sword for a lot of behavior that initially may have seemed bitchin’ but turned out to be boorish.
If he could so easily get the fact that he screwed up a lot on his way to the top, why after 10 years is it so hard for everybody else to admit the same?
In an earlier documentary, “Dale,” SPEED announcer Steve Byrnes spoke glowingly of the time Senior was taking down trees with a bulldozer and directed one within inches of shortening Byrnes’ career. Byrnes recalled the story with a sense of reverence, explaining how Earnhardt would come right to the edge of hurting you without actually doing so.
Folks, there’s nothing — nothing — admirable about almost hitting someone with a falling tree. Earnhardt apparently picked up on that fact, and we could all now admit that a lot of his behavior was reckless without tarnishing his overall legacy.
I was at Pocono in 2006 when Tony Stewart pulled a bonehead move that could have put Carl Edwards and/or Clint Bowyer in traction. After the race he crowed about having to administer vigilante justice, and added that if Senior were still around none of his tactics would have been necessary.
The Dale Sr. of 2001 probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled with Stewart dropping his name as an example of how to deal with things, after Senior admitted the way he conducted himself didn’t always make the cut.
Hopefully as all the emotions from the 10th anniversary of Earnhardt’s death start to settle, we can get past all the bravado and see the real legacy. At the end Senior reflected, softened and repented.
And that’s the sign of a real man.