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Sweet(s) Talk: 20 years later, ‘The Intimidator’ is still remembered

The No. 3 car of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., driven by Richard Childress, takes a lap before a NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., on Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Sweet(s) Talk. …

For sports fans, there are some events that we attend that we never forget a minute of. There are some that are mostly remembered, and others that other than remembering being there, not much else sticks.

On this day 20 years ago, I, along with a handful of Navy shipmates, attended the 30th race of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season at Talladega Superspeedway, in Talladega, Ala., which also happened to be the first Winston Cup race I ever attended.

It was a hot and sunny Alabama fall day. The Talladega track/facility is far from any type of civilization or town. It can be compared to driving through the back roads of Menominee County and all of a sudden you end up in Stephenson.

As far as the eye can see, there’s motor homes, campers, tents, food trucks, memorabilia trailers, ticket scalpers and 150 times more flagpoles attached to campsites than there are outside of the Iron Mountain VA on H Street on a national holiday.

The 2.66-mile superspeedway is NASCAR’s biggest track. The current capacity of Talladega is around 175,000 spectators. If my memory serves me correctly, the capacity 20 years ago was around 130,000 or so.

When everyone stood up for the national anthem, 30 to 45 seconds into the anthem, the frontstretch grandstand swayed like a Lazy-Boy recliner. That feeling is something in itself especially when you aren’t expecting it.

The race had 43 cars entered, one of them was the most popular driver in NASCAR history at that time, and arguably ever — “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt.

What my friends and I and the approximately 130,00 fans in attendance that day had no idea about, was that when Earnhardt led the race when the checkered flag waved–he led the race seven different times– that the victory would be the last of his historic Hall of Fame career.

He still holds records at the track for the most wins (10), most top 5’s (23), most top 10’s (27), most laps led (1,377) — 34 of those on that historic day — and best average finish at the speedway with a minimum of 15 career starts (12.4).

Wisconsin native and former Norway Speedway ARTGO race winner Matt Kenseth led two laps in the race. I still vividly remember standing up and cheering when his No. 17 was on the top of the leaderboard. Kenseth went on to win NASCAR Rookie of the Year that season.

I witnessed history that day; history that as an avid sports fan, I will remember the rest of my life.

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