Both on and off the track, 2001 was a year for tears of pain and joy.
Part of the pain came from the death of Dale Earnhardt Senior on Feb. 18 at the Daytona 500. On that day NASCAR as we knew came to an end. There had been other deaths in the recent years, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin in 2000, but it was the death of the Intimidator that shook the sport to its core.
But the pain was relieved pretty quickly when Steve Park, one of Dale Earnhardt Inc’s. drivers won at Rockingham on Feb 25 and once again two weeks later when Kevin Harvick, the driver who replaced Earnhardt, grabbed his first career win at Atlanta by defeating Jeff Gordon in a finish eerily similar to the #3’s win in the same race a year before.
Atlanta has see some great finishes in the last decade, but this one topped them all. Everyone in the crowd was cheering not just for Harvick, but for Earnhardt and the sport. NASCAR needed this race to help move on and those wounds would disappear a little more later in July when Dale Jr went to Victory lane at Daytona.
It’s been 11 years since this race and I couldn’t help but tear up during the the post race celebration as Harvick did a polo victory lap with three fingers lifted into the sky. There have been few days where an entire fan base could rally around one team or person, but March 11, 2001 was one of those days.
What do you remember about the 2001 Cracker Barrel 500?