If you’re a NASCAR fan, you can probably still remember everything about the day that Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. I know I can: I was 12 years old, and I still remember thinking “Oh, he’s going to be fine, I’ve seen wrecks that look a lot worse.” And then I remember my shock when I heard the news a couple hours later: “We’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”
But there’s nobody else in the world who has the memories of that day that Ken Schrader does. Ken was involved in the wreck that took Dale’s life, and he was the first person to run to Dale’s car after the crash. You’ve probably seen the video of Ken looking into the car and then frantically waving to the medical crews. He knew it was bad as soon as he looked inside.
Exactly what did he see, though? We’ll never know – because Ken has refused to talk about it, even after 19 years. And on his Dale Jr. Download podcast this week, Dale Jr. got the chance to tell Ken just how much that means to him.
“I’ve known you a long time and a lot of time his passed since that happened. And you’ve been a great friend to me. You’re one of only a few to see the darkest moment for my dad. Though you have intimate knowledge of those moments, you are a keeper of that delicate information. It makes me feel close to you, Kenny. I feel pain for you to have to carry that memory, but you carry it for me, you carry it for Kelley, dad’s family, you carry it for anyone who’s ever cheered for him. It’s a secret that you’ll keep ’til your last breath. Kenny, I know you might sometimes wish you weren’t the one, but I’m glad it was you.”
It’s clear from hearing Dale Jr. talk to Ken about something so personal that the two share a special bond over the tragic loss of Dale Sr.
And it was a special moment on the podcast for Dale Jr. to tell Ken just how much that bond means to him.
"I feel pain for you to have to carry that memory, but you carry it for me… you carry it for anyone who's ever cheered for him."