I bid you welcome gentle readers, to the column promised in one of last week’s articles. This is the article at the root of all the problems NASCAR caused for Matt McLaughlin. It’s dated February 18, but most would have found it waiting for them on the morning of February 19, 2001. I was there; I read it, as did many of you. This is your chance to read it again… and you might want to save a copy, just in case.
At What Price Entertainment?
By Matt McLaughlin
This is probably my tenth attempt to write the required column in light of today's terrible tragedy at Daytona Beach. None of the others were any good, and this one won't be either. I can't stop crying long enough to compose my thoughts. Eventually there will come a time to try to write an obituary, as if any words could sum up the career of Dale Earnhardt or the man that he was. They can't. So the Hell with it. Tonight's a night to just cry and to get angry.
I'm not the only writer that’s called for an end to restrictor plate racing all this year. Others, including Benny Parsons, have been hollering for years that it's time to lower the banking at Daytona so the plates could be eliminated. And so many times Dale Earnhardt himself put it so simply and directly, "This ain't real racing." Earnhardt had more than his share of success on the restrictor plate tracks, a record 11 victories on plate tracks including last year's brilliant win at Talladega. But he's also had some of the worst wrecks of his career at the plate tracks. Time after time he crawled out of overturned and burning cars and waved at the crowd on his way to an ambulance. Heck, back in 1997 Earnhardt got back behind the wheel of a thoroughly trashed Chevrolet and finished the race. It seemed he really was the man of steel, the driver who could walk away from any wreck, no matter how horrendous. But sadly, tragically, today we learned even Dale Earnhardt was mortal.
The greatest race car driver of this generation? Absolutely no question about it… but more importantly, a husband, the father of four children, and a granddad. In addition to his family, Earnhardt leaves behind him legions of friends and fans struggling to cope with unspeakable tragedy. The amount of tears being shed across this nation tonight is a tribute to how many lives Earnhardt touched. What should have been the biggest day of his driver Michael Waltrip's career, is now forevermore left under a dark cloud.
What makes Dale's death that much more obscene is NASCAR's recent full court press in the media to state their case they've done everything possible concerning safety and that some elements of the media decrying their inaction were alarmists. No doubt now they'll say that there's no way today's tragedy could have been predicted. Bull crap! Just about every damn restrictor plate race ever run has featured "the big one." But even with three tragedies last year, what was done? A steering wheel mounted kill switch? About NASCAR officialdom’s only excuse is that they really are as stupid as they've come across the last 18 months. Any time it comes to safety modifications, the onus is always put on the car owners and drivers to pay for them. “Soft walls” are a cure worse than the sickness." They are "scientifically not feasible." How about lower banking? How about lower speeds? How about spending some of that money FOX and NBC dumped into the track owners’ laps to make racing safer rather than issuing "Fill in name here" notes of condolence. As the racing community prepares to bury its brightest star, how about taking today's tragedy as the final kick in the pants that ends the excuses and leads to solutions?
Please don't tell me Dale Earnhardt died doing what he loved. He despised restrictor plate racing and said so even after winning last year at Talladega. Dale ran plate tracks four times a year only to gather points towards that eighth championship, which will now forever go unclaimed.
NASCAR and FOX wanted an exciting race to kick off the new alliance? Well they sure as Hell got one. We'll be talking about this race for decades, for all the wrong reasons. And special thanks to the new folks at NASCAR Dot Com kind enough to post the crash video on their lousy new site for the enjoyment of any new fan who might have been making a sandwich or hitting the head when Dale Earnhardt died. And it's clearly evident how much "NASCAR's New Home on TV" cares about the sport. God forbid they cancel Futurama to break the news of the death of this sport's greatest driver. Any reasonable viewer hearing Ken Schrader's comments, noting how quickly Dale Junior disappeared, and how slowly the ambulance left, knew the situation was beyond bad. It wasn't shown on TV, but the booth crew had to see frantic track personnel administering CPR. But they couldn't stay live at the track? Somehow I doubt that any amount of fancy graphics or fancy commercials are going to "grow" this sport any more. It just may be the party is over, and that's probably for the best.
I probably shouldn't be writing right now. I'll probably get in trouble for it tomorrow. I should probably go for a walk, call a friend or have a beer. I'm far too sad or angry to make much sense, and I ain't low enough to crow "I told you so." A great man… a man the likes of which we will never see again, has died and he won't be there when they crank them up at Rockingham. So, to the fine folks who didn't think the banking needed to be lowered, who didn't even feel a bumpy track needed to be re-paved, who saw the price tags on soft walls and labeled them impossible without investing money to turn them into reality, who put the stockholders’ rate of return ahead of the ability for every driver out there to return safely home to his loved ones, you've got blood on your hands. I hope the lot of you rot in Hell.
I propose tomorrow evening at 7:03 PM (Seven championships, car number 3) we all light a candle and put it in a window of our homes. Let Dale up in Heaven see a million points of light in his memory.
To whom it may concern: Be it known that it was my choice… I am, as you might expect, PattyKay Lilley… to run this article again, as it was revised from its original wording, back in the year 2001. I have not sought permission from the author, because as stated in my previous article, he gave his treasures to me for safekeeping, and it is I that feels this document puts a period on the story I told earlier. If anyone in Charlotte or Daytona Beach has a problem with that, then your problem is with me, not with Matt.
Gentle readers: Please include Matt McLaughlin in your prayers. He has been in extremely poor health for some time now, and as mentioned last week, did not respond to my Christmas wishes. I know nothing beyond that, but like the old lady I am, I worry… because I care.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!