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|| News Item: Posted 2001-02-26

Auto Racing's "Black Sunday"
By Gary Bogdon, The Orlando Sentinel

Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel

Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel
The headline in the Monday Feb. 19, 2001 issue of The Orlando Sentinel read: BLACK SUNDAY.

The NASCAR world of racing cringed when Dale Earnhardt, known by his fans as "The Intimidator" crashed his #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet into the wall in the last turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500. Earnhardt died instantly in the crash, but it sent out a shockwave that is still being felt.

Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, (who was winless in 462 races through 16 seasons) was told in Victory Lane, that the man who put him there, (Earnhardt owned his car) would never be racing again. The legend of NASCAR had fallen at Daytona.

Before the race began, as drivers were being introduced to the fans, I noticed Kyle Petty, standing behind the portable stage crying by himself. Petty was obviously thinking of his son Adam, who died last year while
Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel

Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel
racing. As I shot a few frames, Dale Earnhardt a tearful Petty and hugs him, trying to console him for his loss. Little did I know that in just the next few hours, Dale Earnhardt himself would be the one that the tears would be shed for.

Rumors came into the AP Darkroom about an hour after the race, that Earnhardt was dead. It seemed so unreal, that it was hard to believe at first. All of the photos that we had been sending earlier now had very little significance. At this point we switched up, and sent everything we had shot that day of Dale Earnhardt.

We were fortunate because we had shot of the high profile drivers extensively, including Earnhardt prior to the start of the race. What was a meaningless picture of Earnhardt waving to his fans as he was introduced, now would become a full poster page with the word "Farewell" below it.

Other pictures of Earnhardt climbing into his car, walking with his wife down pit row, also became very important. But the most important picture, of the crash itself, was shot one of our imaging technicians who loves to shoot racing. Jacob Langston got all of it.

Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel

Photo by Gary Bogdon/Orlando Sentinel
As the word spread that Earnhardt was dead, we scrambled around the track shooting the event now as a news story. Fans began mourning for their idol, and placing flowers and hats on the fence near the crash site. Others held candlelight vigils, while the flags at Daytona International Speedway were lowered to half-staff. Our newspaper produced a special 8-page color memorial section in Earnhardt's honor.

NASCAR fans around the country have shed tears, held memorials, and mourned for their hero. But to use an old cliche, 'the show must go on' which is what NASCAR drivers will do here in Rockingham, NC tomorrow (Sunday 2/25) when the sound of 'Gentlemen, start your engines', is heard at the Duralube 400.

(Gary Bogdon, senior sports photographer at the Orlando Sentinel, along with senior staffer John Raoux, and staffers Phelan Ebenhack, and Steve Dowell are covering events in North Carolina following Earnhardt's crash, including the race at "The Rock".)

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