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Pieces of the Past: The Day Dale Came to Town

March 22, 2023

Like most history, there is a fascinating back-story behind events. This is one of those. In fact, it will teach you a lot about friendship and commitment. It will give you an insider’s view of a man who was hated as much as he was adored.

Strap your 5-point harness in. Here we go!

NASCAR has hit a pretty good bump in the track compared to the 1980s. Back then, drivers’ names were “household.” Their numbers were too. The biggest number was 3. Dale Earnhardt was the flag bearer of much more than Chevrolet.

His pit crew was the first to have national media attention. Chocolate Myers was nearly as famous as the driver. When he finally won the Daytona 500 EVERY team lined up on the route to the winners’ circle to pound on the roof of his car. The story behind Earnhardt’s arrival reveals why there was such an outpouring of respect, even love for the “Man in Black.”

In 1986, Stateline Speedway owner Fritz Seamens was in Daytona for the pre-race promotions. A promoter approached him and suggested a NASCAR night at his track. Perhaps a famous driver or two could do autographs and photos. Seamens never did things the way everyone else did. He recruited a whole starting field of Cup drivers. He knew that it would take someone of unparalleled fame to draw a big enough crowd to pay the bills. He recruited Cale Yarlboro to be the pole sitter for the night. Even the most casual fan knew the name.

Some of the hottest drivers in the history of NASCAR agreed to come and actually drive in a race! As good as they were, they were relatively unknown. Rodney Combs, Lake Speed (his real name was Lake Speed), Rusty Wallace, Harry Gant, Joe Rutman, Geoff Bodine, Davy Allison, and Michael Waltrip.

The following year things got tough. Seamens tried to get Yarlboro again but couldn’t. He finally got Bobby Allison to be the headliner. That would’ve been great but Allison was hurt in a bad wreck just weeks before the scheduled night.

Allison was a businessman. He had public appearances for sponsors. As damaged as his brain was, he knew he was losing money. He kept trying to get up and out of bed. To keep him down, doctors kept putting him under. They told his wife that he’d never heal if they had to keep doing it!

Desperate to get Allison to stay in bed, his wife called Dale Earnhardt. Dale arrived in Allison’s room and said, “You listen to me! Your wife is giving me a list of all your appearances. I’m going to go to each one for you and give your wife the money! You have only one job, and that’s to get well!”

Earnhardt called Fritz Seamens the next day. As Fritz told me, the call went like this: “Mr. Seamens, this is Dale Earnhardt.” Seamens replied, “and I’m Michael Waltrip” and hung up. Dale called back and said, “this really IS Dale Earnhardt and if you hang up on me again, I won’t call back!” He explained to Seamens the commitment he’d made.

In one of the wildest 20-lap races I ever watched, Rodney Combs lost to Earnhardt by a wheel! People still talk about it.

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