Syndication: Daytona Beach News-Journal
David Tucker/News-Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The internet can be a funny thing. One minute you’re perusing social media for no particular reason at all. The next, you’re fully engrossed in an event that rocked NASCAR and the sports world in general 23 years ago – The crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 involving Dale Earnhardt.

Such is the case when a NASCAR fan named Steven posed a question to his followers on X this past Wednesday.

“You find a Time Machine but it only has enough energy to be used once. What NASCAR moment are you changing the result of?”

An innocuous enough inquiry. And likely the race fan was thinking of definitive race results. But many people overwhelmingly responded by saying they would go back to February 18th, 2001.

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Dale Earnhardt Footage Before The Crash

I stumbled upon that X post this morning. It was at this point that I did a search of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the Daytona 500. And as fate would have it, Outkick just so happened to publish a post about found footage regarding the NASCAR race. They had just published it two hours before I came across it.

The video in question was uploaded in 2018. It clearly involves camcorder footage of a couple of NASCAR fans walking the pits before, during, and after the race that would ultimately take Earnhardt – arguably the greatest driver to ever live – from us.

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The Man, In The Pits, Firing Up The Engine

I can’t help but think the camcorder imagery and the knowledge of what is to happen gives the video an eerie Blair Witch Project feel.

That said, we do get to hear the rumble of the No. 3 car as Earnhardt, whom the fans in the video repeatedly refer to as “The Man”, as he fires up the engine for the last time.

Man, it still hurts to even say that. Here is the video starting at about the 16-minute mark, where you can hear the engine roaring.

Later on in the video, you get to hear the track announcer call the final few laps of the race. The crash involving Earnhardt is not seen, but you can hear it being addressed.

Mention of his car “shooting off” and emergency crews quickly going over to “check on Dale Earnhardt” reverberate on the PA system, barely audible with the crowd noise.

The reason it’s so noisy in that area is that the fans filming are in the pit with Michael Waltrip’s crew. Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in 2001 in the No. 15 car for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., ironically enough. It would be the first Winston Cup victory of his career after 462 other starts.

His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.

The Intimidator

I don’t want to delve into what exactly happened with the crash itself. Bounding Into Sports has covered it as one of the “10 Most Horrific Crashes In NASCAR History.”

We know what happened. We know how the landscape of NASCAR was changed forever that day.

Here is an ESPN Sportscenter report in the hours after Earnhardt Sr.’s death was announced. It is both a remembrance and a way of honoring his legacy in the sport.

‘The Intimidator’, gone at the age of 49.

The incident goes down as one of the most shocking in the history of sports.

Never before and never since has an American athlete viewed as the best ever in his sport lost his life in the middle of doing what they did best. In the most coveted race in NASCAR. With millions watching.

If only we could build that time machine.

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