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Minter: Racing Deaths Leave Lasting Void

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 13 2009
Robert Yates Ford driver Davey Allison won the Pyroil 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in 1991. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Robert Yates Ford driver Davey Allison won the Pyroil 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in 1991. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

NASCAR’s tragedies have a way of making one wonder how things would be had they not happened. They remind racing folks of the words of the old George Jones song  “Who’s gonna fill their shoes.”

Those thoughts come to mind today, the 16th anniversary of Davey Allison’s death due to a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allison was 32 then. He’d likely still be racing – and winning – today. Robert Yates Racing, his old team, surely would have a different look. As it is, it has been passed on to Robert’s son Doug and is run as a satellite operation to Roush Fenway Racing.

There are numerous fans out there, especially in the South, who say racing just hasn’t  been the same for them since Davey’s death.

Petty Enterprises was making progress in regaining its former glory when fourth-generation driver Adam Petty died in a crash. The progress essentially stopped there, even though the King, Richard Petty, has gone on to be associated with a separate venture.

In Georgia, people still talk about how different the Elliott family fortunes would have been had Ernie’s son Casey not been stricken down by cancer. Casey Elliott was awe-inspiring on the short tracks of the Southeast, just as his uncle Bill Elliott had been before him.

In his last start, the youngster won Lanier National Speedway’s biggest race of the year, holding off veterans like Ronnie Sanders and Freddy Query to get the trophy. In two starts in the Nationwide Series, he qualified fourth and eighth, at Michigan and Charlotte.

The family team was all geared up to run a full Nationwide effort when the cancer struck. It just wasn’t to be.

Perhaps the greatest void of all was left by the late Dale Earnhardt. That subject came up in a press gathering last week with his nephew Tony Eury Jr. at Chicagoland Speedway.

Eury Jr. was discussing his ouster as crew chief for his cousin Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports, where they both are now employed.

In doing so he pointed out just how far the two of them have strayed from the original plan.

“When this whole deal started it was Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. and Pops (Tony Eury Sr.),” Eury said. “They wanted me and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. to go racing, and we wanted to be the front of the company, and them two wanted to retire and kick back and watch us.

Losing Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. was a big hit on all three of us. We were trying everything we could to make Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. successful, and it just wasn’t enough.”

Even after Earnhardt died, his company, Dale Earnhardt Inc., remained a power house for a time. Michael Waltrip could win on the restrictor-plate tracks. Dale Jr. could win most anywhere. Even Steve Park was in the top 10 in Cup points when he got hurt at Darlington in 2002.

Now DEI’s racing operations have been merged with Chip Ganassi’s. It’s a two-car operation whereas in recent years DEI fielded four cars by itself.

And NASCAR as a whole likely would look different if Earnhardt was still around to offer his opinions on matter s like aerodynamics, the Car of Tomorrow and lucky dog and double-file restart rules.

In the years after Earnhardt’s death, window decals carrying the black No. 3 were still prevalent in the parking lots of race tracks across America. They seemed to have begun to disappear over time, which is understandable.

The question is what decals those people are putting on their cars today, and whether they even involve racing.

- Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 13 2009
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Lou says:

    i was a 28 fan for years until yates quit using it , i was a davey fan then ernie irvin and even like kenny irwin when he drove the 28 all 3 of those guys had bad luck , only dale jarret and ricky rudd had good luck with the havoline car , since yates took the 28 off the track and dale srs death nascar is not the same . i have a dale earnhardt plate on my car .

  • Yowser says:

    Please don’t forget Blaise Alexander and Tony Roper. Steve Park, Jerry Nadeau, and Ernie Irwin didn’t pass but their wrecks also changed the face of Nascar.

  • KY1WING says:

    Also, can’t help but wonder what the sport would look like if Tim Richmond, Alan Kulwicki, Rob Moroso had seen full careers.

  • Sammi Adkins says:

    I still have my #3 stickers and my license frame plate on my Envoy! I don’t think anyone can ever comprehend all the emotional turmoil that Dale Jr. has been through since the great one was lost! It truly is becoming the end of an era. I still love the good ole boys and am not so fond of the spit shine of the current racing.

  • Stephen says:

    It is indeed interesting to think about the what-ifs… Adam Petty might have been awesome in the Cup series, then again, he might have washed out. There’s no sure-fire thing.

    Davey Allison would have definitely won more races, and perhaps a championship, if not for his Ill-advised helicopter hobby. But I believe he would have been out of racing by now.

    I can only imagine what kind of grumbling Earnhardt would have done about present-day racing, but I think Jr. would have felt even more pressure if he was alive..

    But Earnhardt’s death signified something that people don’t often point out … the death of good-ol-boy dominance of the Cup series. Much of Junior’s massive popularity has to do with the way he talks … like many of the folks who come to the races… It’s the (beginning) of the end of an era.