On this day 10 years ago, the racing world lost Dale Earnhardt. The driver known to many as "The Intimidator"
left an indelible impact on many individuals involved in NASCAR, ranging from fans, to competitors and others within the sport. AMS President and GM Ed Clark is among them. Earnhardt enjoyed a rich history at Atlanta throughout his career
AMS was one of three tracks at which he won nine Cup events. He won more races at only one other track, Talladega. Of Earnhardt's Atlanta wins, his final one remains among the most thrilling – the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 when he held off Bobby Labonte to win by .010 seconds.
"His last win here was pretty special. It's one that people will always remember," Clark said.
Clark got to know Earnhardt rather well when he was working at Bristol Motor Speedway and later at Charlotte Motor Speedway before coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway. In fact, when Clark first moved to Charlotte, he actually stayed at Earnhardt's house for a short time.
"We were just really good friends and did a lot of stuff together, especially back in the early days," Clark recalls.
Clark has many memories of Earnhardt. But among the most vivid came in December of 2000 at the NASCAR banquet when it was held in New York City.
"Usually when the banquet was over, Dale would be the first one out of New York, when it was over he was gone on the plane and going home," Clark said. "We went to the after-party and low and behold, there's Dale and (his wife) Teresa there."
Clark notes that Earnhardt was present after the banquet despite not being that season's champion, having finished second to Labonte.
"He wasn't the champion, he walked around with a bottle of champagne under his jacket and poured it for his friends," Clark recalls.
Earnhardt then beckoned Clark and his wife, Teresa to join him off to the side of the activity.
"Dale grabbed me and said, 'let's go somewhere quiet and talk.' He four of us went across the hall to and empty area with some food and just sat there and talked for about 45 minutes.
"It just struck me. This was a different Dale Earnhardt. He was talking about what's really important and taking care of your employees and the people that work for you and take care of you...things that just weren't the old driven Dale Earnhardt kind of guy."
Indeed, it was a side of Earnhardt not much like his Intimidator persona that had made him famous throughout his career.
"It kind of struck almost that he had made it, and now his thing was to elevate other people and help them out, with the drivers he was hiring at DEI and stuff like that," Clark said. "Even my wife was like ' that's not the Dale we've seen all those years but isn't it refreshing to see him that way?'
"That's always stuck with me. It's a shame, because I think he would have made a great team owner and they would have really built something at DEI they would have been up there with Hendrick and those guys right there."
Clark's final encounter with Earnhardt was not long before the start of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"I was sitting on pit wall talking with J.R. Rhodes, who worked for him. Earnhardt always had this ring and he'd hit you in the back of the head with it," Clark recalls. "All of a sudden I'm sitting there and he something whacked me in the back of the head. I turned around and it was him. I wanted to just punch him and he just grabbed me and hugged me. I never knew that was the last chance I'd have to talk to him."
"There's never been a tougher competitor on the track who is more determined to do it," Clark said.