Earnhardt Buried as Pastor Recalls Their Final Prayer
Dale Earnhardt was buried in his birthplace Wednesday in a private service, even as his team prepared to return the cars he would have driven to the track.
Earnhardt was laid to rest in Kannapolis, N.C., about 25 miles north of Charlotte, with only immediate family members attending.
A memorial service for the seven-time Winston Cup champion is planned today in Charlotte and will be televised live on Fox Sports Net (8 a.m. PST).
Earnhardt, 49, was killed Sunday on the last turn of the last lap in the Daytona 500. His car slammed into the concrete wall after making contact with Sterling Marlin’s.
While his family said goodbye, his team at Richard Childress Racing was planning to enter his car in Sunday’s Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. The car, however, will not use the No. 3 or the black-and-silver paint scheme that was Earnhardt’s trademark. Details of the number and colors were still being worked out.
Kevin Harvick, the team’s Busch Grand National driver, will take over Earnhardt’s cars for the rest of the season. Harvick, 25, was the Busch series rookie of the year last season. Kevin Hamlin, Earnhardt’s crew chief, will head Harvick’s team.
Harvick had been scheduled to move up to Winston Cup racing next season as the third driver in Childress’ garage. Mike Skinner also drives a Winston Cup car for the team.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, the Rev. Max Helton recalled his final prayer with Earnhardt.
Most race day Sundays for the last 13 years, Helton, a Presbyterian minister and founder of Motor Racing Outreach, has stood at the side of Earnhardt’s car and led a prayer.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 was no exception.
Helton said he gathered on the track with Earnhardt’s wife, Teresa, and Childress.
“We held hands through [Earnhardt’s car] window,” Helton said.
“He says, ‘Just pray that I’ll be wise in putting the car at the right place at the right time . . . and be able to drive with wisdom.’ And we did pray about that. And we did pray for safety.”
When Earnhardt finished, he squeezed Helton’s hand, as he always did.
“I noticed it at that particular time, that he seemed to squeeze my hand a little longer than he normally does,” Helton said.
Helton, who in his ministry has traveled the NASCAR circuit since 1988, said he didn’t think much about Earnhardt’s gesture at the time, because Earnhardt was always surprising him. He remembered one instance when he greeted the driver in victory circle.
“Man, he grabbed me by the neck and pulled my head in and said, ‘Let’s pray and thank God for this victory,’ ” Helton recalled. “He was just that way.”
After the race, Helton was in a prayer circle again with Teresa Earnhardt and Childress. Only this time, it was at a hospital, and his old friend was dead.
“No one expected, I think, Dale Earnhardt to die in a race car,” he said. “Maybe in a plane crash, maybe in some other way, but not in a race car. Because he was so good and he’s been through so many crashes and walked away from them that seemed a lot worse than the one he was in and which took his life.”