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Earnhardt's death stuns area NASCAR fans

February 18, 2001

Earnhardt's death stuns area NASCAR fans



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


NASCAR fans throughout the Tri-State area expressed shock and disbelief at the death of racing icon Dale Earnhardt Sunday afternoon at the Daytona 500.

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Hagerstown City Police dispatcher Andy Grosh said he other dispatchers were watching the race while at work Sunday afternoon. The nationally televised race was the first of the 2001 season.

"I saw it happen, it didn't look like a big crash. I didn't think he was severely injured," said Grosh, who called Earnhardt, "the Michael Jordan of race-car driving."

Seven-time Winston Cup champion Earnhardt died from injuries he suffered in the crash on the final lap of the race at Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, Fla.

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Earnhardt, 49, running fourth, grazed Sterling Marlin's car, crashed into the wall at the high-banked, fourth turn going about 180 mph, and was smacked hard by Ken Schrader's car. Officials after the race said death was instantaneous.

A longtime racing fan, Grosh said, "I've been watching him forever."

Several Hagerstown City Police officers said they were devastated by the loss of the legendary racer.

"Everyone's very somber," said one officer.

The managers of local sports bars in Franklin County, Pa., said customers were stunned when they heard the news of Earnhardt's death Sunday evening.

"It was total silence when the news flash went on the screen," said Elaine Morris, co-owner of Casey's Bar and Grill in Greencastle, Pa.

"For race-car fans who followed Earnhardt, they are very sorry about it. When you have a celebrity death in any sport, everyone pauses and takes a moment and thinks 'Oh my God,'" Morris said.

She said between 75 and 100 people filled Casey's Sunday afternoon to watch the race on eight televisions.

There was also a packed house at Dilly's in Chambersburg, Pa., said employee Larry Stoops.

A racing fan, Stoops said he watched the race at the bar before starting his shift.

It was a couple of hours after the end of the race that he and others at Dilly's heard about Earnhardt's death.

"The wreck didn't look like it was that bad compared to the earlier one," Stoops said, referring to a 16-car crash during the race with 20 laps to go. "Nobody really believed it," he said. "Everyone is stunned."

Stoops said much of the racing crowd had gone home before the news hit, but he said the steady stream of customers he was serving in Dilly's carryout store were talking about it.

"The wreck just didn't look that bad. It would be easier to take if it looked worse," he said.

Greg Ahern, a Berkeley County, W.Va., resident who traveled to Daytona with two relatives to see the race Sunday, said many people at the race didn't know Earnhardt had died until after they left the track. "I don't think it was as a momentous of a wreck that you have seen on the circuits before," said Ahern, who works at City Hospital near Martinsburg, W.Va.

The only information passed onto race fans at the track was when the track announcer said Earnhardt was being taken to the hospital, Ahern said.

Kim Wiegand, a racing fan in Berkeley County, said she wanted to send her sympathies to Earnhardt's family, friends and fans.

"It's hard to believe because he's been racing since I've been watching racing," said Wiegand.

Staff writers Stacey Danzuso and Dave McMillion also contributed to this story.

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