Less than an hour after the news, they started filing into Martinsville Speedway. Some brought flowers. Some brought candles. All brought tears. For more than 24 hours now, they have been streaming into the track, some just...
Less than an hour after the news, they started filing into Martinsville Speedway. Some brought flowers. Some brought candles. All brought tears. For more than 24 hours now, they have been streaming into the track, some just slowly driving down Speedway Road and circling on out. Most stop, though, leave their vehicle and stare out over the race track, deep in reflection and grief.
A full day after the news that Dale Earnhardt was dead, many were still struggling to grasp the reality. "I just can't believe it ... I just can't," an older woman sobbed late Monday night, tears reflecting in the glow of several candles. She was one of a half-dozen or more fans still gathered at the track about 9 o'clock Monday night, as temperatures dropped below freezing. What began as a couple of candles and a single rose outside the crossover gate in the fourth turn early Sunday evening had grown into a shrine for their fallen hero by Tuesday morning. Fans had left probably more than 200 items and they keep coming. They range from big-buck flower arrangements to messages written in crayon by young children. There are at least 50 single roses tucked into the fence. There are balloons, some brightly colored, others a mournful black, adorned with the famous No. 3. There are long, hand-written messages and simple, but to-the-point notes.
"No. 3 you will live forever in our hearts."
"I miss you"
"I'm going to miss you so bad. My heart is hurting so much."
"The Intimidator lives in our hearts forever."
These aren't just Earnhardt fans either. They are Bobby Labonte fans, Tony Stewart fans, Jeff Gordon fans. They are race fans who share a common loss and a few minutes at the track allowed them to bond and grieve with other fans. "He was one of a kind," said Michael Martin of Bassett, VA. "It won't be the same for awhile. You won't have the bumping and grinding ... well, you will, but it won't be the same without Earnhardt around." Martin is a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. His wife Michelle said she is an Earnhardt Jr. and a Stewart fan. But on Monday, that didn't mean a great deal. "It doesn't matter whether you liked him or not," said Michelle. "It's what he meant to our sport." Tim Shively of Martinsville, VA., was decked out in Earnhardt garb late Monday afternoon as he quietly gazed out over Martinsville Speedway and reflected on the many years he had rooted for The Man In Black. "I've been pulling for him since '79 or so," said Shively, who stopped by the track on his way home from work. "He was one of a kind. He was a racer. He won't be replaced."