The Eternal Champion
by Gene Crucean
Valparaiso, IN: The death of Dale Earnhardt during the 2001 Daytona 500 was a profound and personal loss for me. The despair and hollowness of heart that I felt on that day left me completely uninterested in automobile racing. I hadn’t felt the desire to watch, much less attend, a race since then.
That’s why I felt so surprised and even confused about my motives for attending the Daytona 500 this year. I thought my days in the grandstands were behind me. But in spite of my inner conflict, there I was, ticket in hand, marching along with many others toward my seat.
Dale had been my hero and idol since the day he brought his super aggressive style to Cup racing. What a driver he was - seventy-six wins and seven championships! The “Intimidator” was a perfect nickname for his hard driving style. Dale was often despised by his peers because, well, he was just so damn good. But he was also worshiped by millions of his fans – none more than me.
And even though I’m not a driver, Dale was also my mentor. He taught me so much – lessons about living. He taught me how to face uncertainty and conquer adversity; and how to be confident while being humble. He taught me to stand up to those who would bully me. And mostly, he showed me how to live with passion and to seek a deep understanding of the human condition.
In the years since that dark day in 2001 my life had sunk into the depths of depression. I’d lost any purpose for living. It was one job after another. I couldn’t seem to sustain relationships. Each of my days began with Prozac. I’d even sought help from a therapist. In fact, my entire life seemed to be circling the drain.
With the weight of all of this despair, I just couldn’t understand the overpowering urge that had driven me to attend the Daytona 500. The pain of attending the very race in which Dale had perished would be unbearable. Why would I go? Why would I put myself through this misery?
As I slowly bumped along in the crowd toward my seat, I began talking with others about Dale. We shared our grief and told heartfelt stories about Dale. As we shuffled along, something made me look toward the sky. My eyes became transfixed on the curious shapes of the converging clouds. I saw what appeared to be the outline of a twinkling eye – then the shape of a mustache. “Look” I said breathlessly as I pointed skyward. Through misty eyes I saw the clouds rearranging themselves in the shape of Dale’s smiling face! “Look, look” I said as tears began streaming down my cheeks. We all stood, watching and hugging in reverent silence. There, in the arms of a total stranger, I found myself weeping for joy as Dale smiled down on all of us. “Dale is here with us” I blubbered, “he will always be with us – our Eternal Champion.” It was then, at that awe-inspiring moment, that I understood the powerful force that had moved me to attend the Daytona 500.
* * *
All website content is ©2010, crucean.com | Contents may not be disseminated without express permission. | All rights reserved.