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Local NASCAR fans pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Few if any of the people who stopped by Davis-Weaver Funeral Home in Clarksburg Wednesday personally knew Dale Earnhardt.

But to racing fans, his death hit close to home.

"I have a son who's 36 and a son who's 29 who eat, drink and live Dale Earnhardt," said Karen Sears, of Shinnston "It's just like losing a family member."

Sears was among those who stopped by the funeral home to pay their respects to Earnhardt, who was killed in a wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500 Sunday.

The funeral home offered a guest book for people to sign that will be sent to the Earnhardt family, said Joe Nutter, owner.

And area residents will have more chances to let the Earnhardt family know what the seven-time Winston Cup champion meant to them. Davis Funeral Home on Route 98 near Nutter Fort plans to offer a registry from noon to 8 p.m. Friday.

WFBY radio on Route 20 outside of Nutter Fort has a poster board sympathy card available for people to sign through the close of business Friday that also will be sent to the family.

So far, the response to all three has been overwhelming.

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook," said Randy Amos, manager of Davis Funeral Home. "We're anticipating a huge crowd."

On Friday, Davis will have not only a registry book available, but also a television in the chapel showing Earnhardt's memorial service scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.

They also plan to have memorabilia on display, much of which was loaned by area race fans and a collage of pictures of the driver they called The Intimidator.

WFBY, which broadcasts NASCAR races, wanted to do something for the fans, said Tim Brady, news director.

"It's something for those people who want to feel like they're part of this, but can't go to Charlotte for the funeral service," he said.

Many fans do feel like they lost somebody close to them.

"Our whole family just sat down and cried," said Karen Sampson, of Lumberport, who visited Davis-Weaver with her 3-year-old daughter, Pearle.

Sampson became an Earnhardt fan back in the late 1970s when he first started winning races, she said. Seventy-six wins and seven Winston Cup championships later, he was like a close, personal friend to her.

"I loved that man -- I absolutely loved that man," she said.

For some, signing the register to say farewell to their hero was too much as they left in tears.

Others stood in small groups and talked about how shocked they were to hear the news Sunday evening that he was gone.

"I figured they'd pull him out and patch him up," said Rudy Bozarth. "We went to the store (after the race) and heard it on TV later."

Bozarth said he was not a fan of the No. 3, but still felt compelled to sign the register and pay his respects.

Others too said it was hard to believe that Sunday's wreck took the racing legend's life.

"I didn't keep (the TV) on," said Chris Wagner, of Clarksburg. "I figured he'd be all right."

Wagner, Barbie Morris, Lisa Wageman and Tina Gallo visited the funeral home during their lunch break.

The visit helped them deal with the tragedy.

"I think this provides closure for people," Morris said.

Although events like those at WFBY and Davis-Weaver and Davis funeral homes might help start the healing process, racing won't be the same for many fans.

"The rest of the year won't seem the same without him," Wageman said.

The Earnhardt family has asked that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Foundation for the Carolinas, a non-profit, philanthropic organization. The address is: Foundation for the Carolinas, in honor of Dale Earnhardt, P.O. Box 34769, Charlotte, N.C., 28234-4769.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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