Earnhardt Tests the Lights at Daytona

Special to Motorsport News International Daytona Beach, FL February 7th, 1998 by Nancy Kendrick Tonight at 6:30 PM began one of the most thrilling, awesome historical Winston Cup events ever. The lights were on, the crowd and the media ...

Earnhardt Tests the Lights at Daytona

Special to Motorsport News International

Daytona Beach, FL February 7th, 1998 by Nancy Kendrick

Tonight at 6:30 PM began one of the most thrilling, awesome historical Winston Cup events ever. The lights were on, the crowd and the media were anticipating the appearance of Dale Earnhardt on pit road. The pace car was on pit road, awaiting Dale's arrival and the inaugural testing of the lights at Daytona International Speedway. It wasn't yet dark, but as you looked around you saw the track being illuminated by the lights. It was incredible. After all these years without lights, the feeling was indescribable when darkness set in and the track was totally lit.

At 6:30 the Black #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet was pushed out of the garage area toward pit road. The fans first started cheering, and then a tremendous noise erupted. The excitement was building, and the fans were stamping their feet so hard and loud you could feel the vibration in the press box. As Dale rolled down pit road, we immediately dashed to the roof of the Winston Tower to experience NASCAR Winston Cup racing history in the making.

As we arrived to our viewing spot on the roof, the fans were still pounding their feet. You had to be there to understand that the crowd was wild with the thrill of the testing of the lights, and the fact that the INTIMIDATOR was THE TESTER.

The pace car began its decent down pit road, with the #3 in tow. There were two pace laps, and on the second lap Dale pulled his typical Dale Earnhardt move in turn 2. Coming out of turn 2 Dale pulled up along side the pace car and attempted to pass going into the Super Stretch. Dale didn't actually pass the pace car but it was visions of Dale Intimidator Earnhardt of old.

After two laps, they dropped the green and that Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo was out in front for the first time this year. (Ok, he was the only one on the track.) As Earnhardt came through turn 3 and proceeded into four the crowd went ballistic. They chanted, screamed, thumped their feet, and even the Earnhardt haters were in awe of the moment. It was the thrill of a life time, and enough to give you goose bumps.

To add to the excitement, you could hear the in-car communications of Larry McReynold's, Earnhardt and Childress throughout the twenty lap test session through the public address system at DIS. At one point Larry told Dale, "193 mph." Earnhardt had just topped Labonte's winning qualifying speed. Earnhardt was heard to say, "Look's like it is going to be a good Bud Shoot out tomorrow."

 The vision of the #3 under the lights was just unbelievable. Words can't describe the experience. It was THE ULTIMATE! 

Earnhardt did have a few problems between turns 1 and 2 and also between turns 3 and 4. Every time he took the high line his Chevrolet Monte Carlo would bottom out on the race track. It was most apparent between 1 and 2 when the sparks came out of his car. It was somewhat more difficult to notice between 3-4 because of the reflection of the lights off of Dale's car. As soon as Dale started to run the bottom groove of the track, he was fine. Nevertheless, this minor technicality didn't take away from the moment.

Lights at Daytona International Speedway are the best thing that have happened there since the building of the Winston Tower. Also, the project isn't finalized which is one of the reasons that Earnhardt was doing the test run this evening.

For those who may ask, "Why Earnhardt?" The answers are numerous. First and foremost, he is the winningest driver at Daytona International Speedway. Dale is also the only seven time Winston Cup Champion currently competing in the sport. Dale also has more racing experience under the lights then the reigning Champion, Jeff Gordon. Lastly, "Why not Dale Earnhardt?"

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