Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ten Years After: Sharing Final Moments and a Driver's Seat With Dale Earnhardt

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"So, you got any advice for me here coming up?'' Dale Earnhardt radioed to Andy Pilgrim while slowly driving caution laps around Daytona International Speedway, preparing for the final race restart with 21 laps to go in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Only two weeks earlier, the NASCAR icon had co-driven to a runner-up GT Class finish in the historic Rolex 24 at Daytona with the sports car champ Pilgrim (second from left above), who was now sitting with his girlfriend and Earnhardt's wife, Teresa, hooked up to the race team's radio in the couple's private motorcoach in the speedway's infield. A pair of motorcycle policemen had just arrived outside and were waiting to escort them all from the track after the race.

"When he said that to me, I just started laughing and thinking to myself, 'Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time NASCAR champion, is asking me, a road racer, what to do in the Daytona 500,' '' Pilgrim recalled. "I told him, 'No, man, I haven't got any advice for you, just keep doing what you're doing.' '''

"Okay, just wondering,'' Earnhardt good-naturedly replied, his words getting cut off by his spotter, who was alerting him the race was going green on the next lap.

"I told him, 'Cheers, talk to you later,' '' Pilgrim said. "And there was no more radio communication other than him cheering on and yelling for Michael (Waltrip) and (Dale Earnhardt) Junior.

"Then, 10 minutes later, he was gone.


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