- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Maybe this is the way Dale Earnhardt would have wanted it: a simple, solemn, brief memorial. And when it was over, everybody went racing.
In a nationally televised service that lasted 22 minutes, drivers, crew members dressed in black, friends and sponsors gathered with Earnhardt's family yesterday to say goodbye to "the Intimidator."
The ceremony at cavernous Calvary Church was more about the man than the racing great who was killed Sunday at age 49 in a wreck on the final turn of the Daytona 500.
There was almost nothing connecting the service to a seven-time Winston Cup champion no pictures, memorabilia or references to his storied career save for a red, white and black floral arrangement in the shape of "3" the number painted on his famous black Chevrolet race car near the pulpit.
Perhaps the greatest connection was the sight of his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., walking into church with Michael Waltrip, who won Daytona driving one of Earnhardt's cars.
The only speakers to address the 2,500 invited guests were two ministers. Longtime friend Randy Owens, from the country band Alabama, sang and played his acoustic guitar.
At the end of the service, Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, walked to the front of the church, turned toward the crowd and blew two kisses.
"Thank you, thank you," she whispered before she and her 12-year-old daughter, Taylor, were escorted out.
Driver Rusty Wallace said he attended the service to properly say goodbye to his friend and rival. Like the rest of the NASCAR community, Wallace left for Rockingham, N.C., afterward to prepare for Sunday's Dura Lube 400 race.
"None of us were ready to let Dale go, and we will miss him terribly," Wallace said. "God only created one Dale Earnhardt and no one will ever replace him, neither in our sport or in our hearts."
The congregation also included racing brothers Terry and Bobby Labonte, and drivers Jerry Nadeau and Bobby and Donnie Allison. Also there to pay respects was Sterling Marlin who received hate mail and telephone death threats from people who blamed him for the fatal crash. The cars driven by Earnhardt and Marlin made contact moments before Earnhardt slammed into the wall.
Dale Beaver, a chaplain with the Motor Racing Outreach ministry, eulogized Earnhardt not as "Old Ironhead," but as a warm and caring father. He described his anxiety when he first met him, interrupting Earnhardt's lunch to get permission for Taylor to go on a camping trip.
"I thought, 'He's eating bear and I'm going to be dessert,' " Beaver said. But, he recalled, "I didn't come into the presence of a racing icon or an intimidating figure. I came into the presence of a dad, a father, who was concerned about his daughter."
It drew the only laughter and smiles of a service marked by long faces but few tears a day after Earnhardt was buried in his hometown of Kannapolis, about 25 miles from Charlotte.
President Bush, another Earnhardt friend, sent longtime aide Joe Allbaugh to attend the service.
"I am saddened by the untimely loss of this American legend and want to express my deepest sympathy to his family, friends and fans," Mr. Bush said in a statement.
About 100 Earnhardt fans gathered outside the church, many of them wearing jackets and hats bearing his signature or the No. 3. They ignored the rain, hoping to get a look at Earnhardt relatives, drivers and officials.
Truck driver Scott Poole and three friends made a 7 and 1/2-hour trip from Hagerstown, Md.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, just to be part of the memory," Mr. Poole said.
Meanwhile, in Daytona Beach, Fla., 200 fans paid their last respects during a memorial service at Central Baptist Church.
Nursery school teacher Michelle Lindley delicately placed a paper heart adorned with a "3" on an altar. Thomas Hagerty brought a petition signed by dozens asking the city to name a bridge after Earnhardt. Barbie Squires cried and patted the back of her 12-year-son, Jesse Shriver, who held a box containing action figures of Earnhardt and his racing son.
"It's still very upsetting. I still don't believe it happened," said Judy Tolland, a hairdresser from Temple, Pa., who witnessed the crash. "It's not like him to get into a wreck and not come out of it."
Daytona Beach Mayor Bud Asher said he would propose to the City Council that a pedestrian walkway to Daytona International Speedway be named after Earnhardt.
Thousands of Earnhardt fans have attended memorial services at racetracks and other facilities since Sunday.
At Texas Motor Speedway, all on-track activity was halted during the service. Charlotte area funeral homes offered the public guest books to sign, as did funeral homes in eastern parts of the state. Outside North Carolina, funeral homes as far away as Ohio and New York did the same.

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