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Thursday, April 19
Waltrip joined fans at tribute
Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Two months later, Darrell Waltrip still chokes up when he recalls the jolting final moments of the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt memorial
Levi Lee, 4, bottom, peeks out from under his mother Toni's arm as she signs a Dale Earnhardt banner at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.

The three-time Winston Cup champion was working as a Fox analyst when he saw his brother, Michael, win the race and his close friend, Dale Earnhardt, die in the final lap.

"I'm so excited, and then all of a sudden, I turn my attention back down the track," Waltrip said. "I saw Ken Schrader walk to (Earnhardt's) car, look in and start frantically waving his arms. That's when I knew it was worse than anybody could've anticipated.

"From there, it was a roller coaster of emotions. One minute, I'm headed to Victory Circle, the next minute, I'm headed to the hospital. Just like that. I'm still not over it."

Waltrip, who retired last year at age 53 with 84 victories, joined several hundred Dale Earnhardt fans at a tribute to the fallen driver at the National Corvette Museum.

Steve Crisp, Earnhardt's publicist, said he's been to several tributes since Earnhardt's death, but said this one was special because of Earnhardt's affinity for Corvettes.

"He had a connection because it's always been fast, it's always been aggressive, it's always had a 'take no prisoners' reputation as a car, and that was kind of his philosophy in life, too," Crisp said.

Hundreds of fans wearing Earnhardt jackets and baseball caps signed a 20-foot banner that will be sent to Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, in North Carolina. The museum added a collection of bricks bearing Earnhardt's name and signature No. 3 to the sidewalk outside the entrance.

"He was like a member of my family," said Julia Dunning, 42, of Bowling Green. "I haven't picked another driver to follow. The races just don't seem as good now."

Earnhardt was the fourth NASCAR driver killed in 12 months and many, including Waltrip, say a device designed to limit head injuries could have prevented those deaths. He said NASCAR should mandate the use of the Head and Neck Support device.

"That thing gives you a 60 percent better chance of surviving a wreck like that," Waltrip said. "If they (NASCAR) won't make it mandatory, they ought to at least send out a bulletin that says, 'We highly recommend the HANS device.' And they should highly recommend it to the point where if a driver doesn't want to follow the recommendation, maybe his car has a little problem getting through inspection."

A doctor who studied the autopsy pictures said Earnhardt was killed when his head whipped violently forward as his car hit a wall at 150 mph. Some drivers have started using the device, and others are considering them.

NASCAR has come under fire since Earnhardt's death for not adopting stricter safety measures sooner, but Waltrip defended the organization Wednesday.

"When we find something that needs immediate attention, immediate attention doesn't always mean the next day," he said. "Our schedule is so demanding, when somebody dies, we don't have time to mourn. That's a sad state of affairs, but that's the way our schedule is.

"Maybe it looks like they (NASCAR) don't have the concern we would like to see them have. But in reality, they're doing a pretty darn good job. They care about those athletes. They don't want to see their superstars killed, they want to see them stay around and retire like I did."

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