Of Dale and ‘Dega

Being less than enthralled with traffic jams, I’d arrive at the race track five or so hours before the green flag. That was back when traffic was still a factor, before NASCAR started walking head-down, looking for every bit of spare change dropped onto a sidewalk, and didn’t pay attention to what was coming.

I’d plop down my assigned spot in the Talladega Superspeedway media center, at a table that might well have been constructed as a project in the Talladega High School shop class.

Many of those mornings, the four or five of us early-birds would look up to a familiar sight who strolled into the room, grabbed a cup of coffee and pulled up a chair, propping his boots on a table.

“What’s going on?” Dale Earnhardt would say.

It felt like any collegial coffee break in any office in America.

Except with the greatest racer on the planet holding court.

You’ve had to tolerate a lot of good ol’ days meanderings if you’ve followed this blog.

But, come on. Could there be a better ol’ day start than covering a race and having Dale Earnhardt pop into your office?

Yes, he was bored and restless. But he liked hanging around media guys. He could find refuge in the media center away from the autograph hounds and tour groups that clogged the garage area.

Likely as not, Earnhardt would be back in the media center many hours later. For the winner’s press conference.

He started 44 NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega and won 10 of them. The damndest one of them all, he was 18th with five laps to go. That was 20 years ago this month.

I can’t seem to avoid Talladega. I’ll be there for what I think is the 67th time. It’s a kaleidoscope of memories. Earnhardt is at the center of many of them.

That prompted this oral history of October 15, 2000. Hope you’ll grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair and give it a read.

It wasn’t just Earnhardt’s 10th win at Talladega. It wasn’t just his most dramatic.

It was the last win of his career.

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