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Plane Crash Serves As Sobering Reminder In Cup Garages

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 18 2019
The burned-out remains of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s airplane at the airport near Bristol Motor Speedway. (RacinToday.com photo by Deb Williams)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Private air travel became popular in NASCAR’s top series 30 years ago. Today it’s considered a necessity, but each time there is a plane crash in the motorsports community the competitors are hit with the reality that danger isn’t confined to the race track.

“It’s scary any time you hear about those things or see those things,” Kyle Busch said Friday, one day after Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s jet crashed in Elizabethton, Tenn. “My pilot actually called me (about it). As soon as he said Junior’s plane went down my heart just dropped.” 

NBC Sports analyst and 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver Earnhardt, his family and two pilots survived the crash at Elizabethton (Tenn.) Municipal Airport. They were headed to Bristol Motor Speedway for the NASCAR weekend when their Cessna Citation Latitude 680 skidded off the runway and through a fence. It stopped on Highway 91 with fire and smoke billowing from the jet. All five people and the Earnhardt dog quickly escaped the wreckage.

“It just takes your breath away,” Clint Bowyer said about the crash. “Those are people that are our friends, family of NASCAR and when you see them in trouble like that, you see the video, that hits home.

“It was very, very scary for all of us to be able to watch that. Thank God they’re all safe, but that is definitely a wake-up call for all of us. We’re pretty fortunate to be able to fly around and do the things we do, but it’s still a dangerous sport no matter where you look. The luxuries of being able to travel like that are still dangerous things.”  

Earnhardt’s close friend Martin Truex Jr. said when he learned of the crash it was a “surreal moment.”

“You thought did this really happen? How is this even possible?” Truex said.

“I talked to Kelley (Earnhardt Miller, Earnhardt’s sister) last night before coming here. Just happy everybody is OK,” Truex said. “It’s really a blessing. They’re like family to me. It was definitely scary. I can’t imagine the thoughts that went through their head.”

Brad Keselowski, a former driver for Earnhardt in the Xfinity Series, said the 20-minute flight from the Charlotte, N.C., area versus the three-hour ride was more convenient for those with young children.

   “Practice today (Friday) started at 11 a.m. so a three-hour drive means a 6 a.m. wake-up call for a 4 year old,” said Keselowski, whose plane flew over the wreckage when it landed at the same airport Friday morning. “That means hell for them and then conversely hell for Mom and then conversely hell for Dad. Work-life balance is the reality of it. We’re trying to be good Dads and good husbands and trying to leverage the privileges we have to do just that. By staying home last night (Thursday) I got to have dinner with my daughter and her grandparents got to come over. That’s a big deal. We don’t get many nights like that.

“We’re not like (NBA player) LeBron James where we get to sit on the bench or stay home for a week. This is 38 weeks and they will run the race without you and your ass will get fired if you don’t show up.” 

Keselowski admitted he’s “not a very good flier” and he always tries to stay vigilant on his plane. 

Busch, whose plane also is a Cessna Latitude, notes everyone has “procedures and protocols”.  He noted his plane had always done a “phenomenal job.”

Truex said safety was always their No. 1 concern when flying. 

“We don’t take any chances, but you never know how things can play out,” Truex said. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 18 2019
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