Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fennelly: At Daytona, fans of Earnhardts show their adoration

DAYTONA BEACH

Welcome to Dale-tona

That's what it said on the handmade sign atop the motor home parked in Turn 2 of the Daytona International Speedway. Colleen Weaver had made the sign. Her husband, Ron, was sitting under the tent, next to the kiddie pool, near the barbecue, with extended family.

Ron remembered the 1998 day when Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500. He was there when Earnhardt died at the track. He was there the night Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona summer race on his first trip back after his father's death.

"The Earnhardts are part of history at this place," said Weaver, 63, of Land O'Lakes.

And now Dale Jr. is retiring from full-time NASCAR Cup racing after this season. Saturday's Coke Zero 400 might have been his last run at Daytona.

His legions pulled for magic, and Earnhardt provided some, coming from two laps down after scraping the wall to position himself for a late charge. But he wrecked out with 55 laps to go.

"Just wasn't meant to be," Earnhardt said.

No matter. It was Junior's night.

There were flags for his No. 88 car all over the Daytona infield. There were as many Earnhardt flags as American ones.

In the infield Fan Zone, where fans can look into drivers' garages through big windows, the glass at the No. 3 garage — Junior's — was covered with good-luck messages scribbled with grease pencils. When they ran out of room on the glass, they wrote on walls. Two hours before Saturday's race, people stood 12 deep to try and stare at Junior's vehicle.

Earnhardt was on the pole for Saturday's race. Anticipation was high. Debra and Forrest Maretz were up from Fort Myers.

"If Dale wins, there will be a party all night in Daytona," Debra said.

But what to do after Junior?

Debra likes Chase Elliott. Forrest likes Ty and Austin Dillon. And Jimmie Johnson.

"But we don't know how much longer Jimmie will be around," Forrest said. "There's a vacuum without Dale Jr."

Bob Almeida of Cape Coral was here the day Dale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500. And when he died.

"You could have dropped a dime and heard it hit anywhere around this place," Almeida said. "It was just silent. Dale was the best there ever was. Junior was pretty good, too. It's tough to see no more Earnhardts."

But what about Jeffrey Earnhardt, Dale Sr.'s grandson and Junior's nephew? He's driving in the Cup series, too.

"I just never followed Jeffrey," Almeida said. "He doesn't drive like the Earnhardts."

In Turn 4, where Dale Earnhardt slammed the wall and died in 2001, there was Mark Jackson of Miami. He had set up a bar near his inflatable kiddie pool — beer, shots, hard liquor, frozen drinks, music blasting into the night.

"I just don't know that the racing is going to be the same without him," Jackson said of Junior. "I'm signing up for Twitter today and inviting Dale to the pool bar if he wins. He can bring his whole … crew. But he probably won't show up."

In Turn 4, Jon Chartley of St. Cloud was adjusting a homemade sign on a fiberglass pole: Dale Jr. Thanks for the Memories.

Chartley has been coming here for years. He pointed to where Dale Earnhardt hit the outside wall in 2001.

"Right there," he said.

He helps do fiberglass work on boats. He said he worked on both of Dale Sr.'s boats in Palm Beach — Intimidator, his fishing boat, and Sunday Money, his yacht.

"The perfect names," Chartley said. "I got to talk to Dale three, four times."

He has never met Junior.

"Gonna miss him."

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

Fennelly: At Daytona, fans of Earnhardts show their adoration 07/01/17 [Last modified: Saturday, July 1, 2017 11:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Young girl injured by 105 mph foul at Yankee Stadium renews call for more netting

    Ml

    NEW YORK — A young girl at Yankee Stadium was injured by a 105 mph foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier during Wednesday's game against Minnesota, leading some players to call for protective netting to be extended.

    Baseball fans reacts as a young girl is tended to before she is carried out of the seating area after being hit by a line drive in the fifth inning of a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at Yankee Stadium in New York. [Associated Press]
  2. Clearwater enjoys view from the top

    Footballpreps

    CLEARWATER — The offense still has a familiar feel. Short passes become big gains. Linemen drive their opponents in reverse, forcefully and repeatedly. Runs along the sideline continue to leave defenders breathlessly behind.

    The outcomes are similar, too.

    Clearwater’s Brandon Gary, from left, Jacob Day, Damon Dennis and Jarius Williams celebrate a turnover recovery deep in Countryside High territory during the second quarter of Monday’s game at Countryside. Clearwater won 35-14.
  3. Rick and Tom podcast: Lots of questions for college football teams in Florida

    College

    In just three weeks, the state of college football in Florida went from high expectations to lots of questions at USF with slow starts, Florida with no offense and Florida State losing quarterback Deondre …

    Despite slow starts, quarterback Quinton Flowers and USF take a 3-0 record into tonight's game against Temple. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  4. Morning after: Takeaways from Lightning exhibition

    Blogs

    For the Lightning, there was a lot to like in Wednesday's 4-3 exhibition win in Carolina.

    The Lightning's Erik Cernak, left, congratulates Adam Erne (73) following Erne's goal against the Carolina Hurricanes.
  5. Cesar Puello slides home to score off of a bunt single by Peter Bourjos during the second inning.