Time To Move On

Richard Childress perhaps said it best late last week when he issued a statement regarding tonight's race at Daytona.

Childress lost his driver Dale Earnhardt at Daytona, in a last lap crash roughly five months ago. Through a spokesman, hoping to stop all interview requests about the race, said the week leading up to tonight's event would be "tough for everyone" on his team and "for everyone who knew and loved Dale Earnhardt."

Few could have imagined last winter the impact the death of Earnhardt would have on the sport, or more important, the fans. None could have imagined that five months later we would still be marking his death.

One wonders what Earnhardt would think of the attention he's generated in death. Yet here were are.

No doubt, NBC's coverage of the Pepsi 400 will be filled with references to Earnhardt's crash. There will be volumes of print and online coverage of that fatal day. And the fans at Daytona will be reliving Feb. 18, 2001 all over again.

I say, now that the Winston Cup Series is returning to the scene of the accident, let's use this event to create some closure on the death of Earnhardt.

Perhaps it's time to let Earnhardt go. Let's allow his family to move on with their lives, their grieving, and their rebuilding, without the weekly memorials, celebrations and the third-lap fingers in the air routine.

A few weeks back, Richard Petty took some heat for what were labeled insensitive comments that suggested the sport should move on now, and that despite the magnitude of Earnhardt's impact, the sun continued to rise and set.

He's was right, and far from insensitive. It was easy for some to paint Petty as an elderly goofball, bordering on jealousy for even suggesting Earnhardt was a mere mortal. But Petty has been in the same situation recently.

Who else would know better about dealing with the loss of a family member in a racing accident?

Grieving the death of a loved one is a natural and understandable emotion. But even with our closest family loses, a time comes when we stop praying to the photographs on the mantel. Instead, folks honor the lives of their family members in more subtle ways.

It's time to do the same for Earnhardt.

This isn't to suggest we forget the legend. His seven championships, daring driving style and wins make it impossible - at least for the current generation - to forget.

Realistically, though, there will come a time, measured 10s of years, when he’ll be a statistic, especially to some of the new fans who never created a bond with Earnhardt.

The loss of Earnhardt has been hard on the sport. With him gone, many fans still can't figure out who to cheer for. For them, there is a clear void.

Many fans continue to buy and covet Earnhardt merchandise. And frankly, the sport just doesn't feel the same.

Yet, how long can the track-by-track ceremonies continue? Fact is, every newly-dedicated Earnhardt grandstand diminishes the impact of the first.

Is there any benefit to the three-lap salute? Not really. Could the sense of loss about Earnhardt be prolonged simply because of the constant reminders? Perhaps. Do any fans really get a feeling of satisfaction from any of these memorials or events? Hard to tell. But is it time to move on? Definitely.

NASCAR's investigation into Earnhardt's death should not stop. In fact, when the long-awaited report is released next month, the document will re-open this wound, but on a different level.

Stopping the ceremonies now would undoubtedly be tough for folks in say Chicago or Indianapolis, where the first chance for them to honor Earnhardt is just around the bend.

However, they have to understand, too, there comes a time to stop everything. There’s no better time to stop than at Daytona, the place where the hurt began.

So tonight, if you're sitting in the stands at Daytona or watching at home on NBC, proudly raise three fingers on the third lap, then put them away for good. In the end, the sun will continue to rise and it will certainly set.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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