Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My best day as a sports writer

I WAS WORKING ON my most recent Dale Earnhardt book — Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, Sr. — on a Wednesday in late 2007. I called a friend of mine, radio announcer Mark Garrow, who gave me a couple of stories about Earnhardt.

A few of them were about Bristol Motor Speedway — including the infamous "rattlin' his cage" incident with Terry Labonte — so I called Wayne Estes, who works at BMS (and before that worked in PR for Ford). Wayne gave his versions of the same stories, and I was off and running for the day.

Around noon, I got a call from Larry McReynolds, who was Earnhardt's crew chief when Dale won the 1998 Daytona 500. Larry and I chatted for nearly an hour, and we shared some laughs. The book was getting better.

A few minutes after we hung up, Geoff Bodine called. He said he was on a business/pleasure trip to Hawaii, and you could hear glasses clinking in the background. I assume they were in the pleasure part of the trip. Geoff was Earnhardt's chief rival in the '90s, and he regaled me with stories, including the one about Dale borrowing a cop's handcuffs and cuffing Geoff to a railing at a short track.

The book was getting better still.

I had some more calls out ... Randy LaJoieDavid PearsonHut Stricklin and many others, but I had to go shopping. About an hour later, my cell rang. "Tom, it's David. David Pearson." "David, good to hear from you," I said. "Actually, I'm shopping at Walmart. Could I call you back later?"

David told me to call him back about 8:30. I think he was eating with friends before that.

So I called and ended the day with a great interview with someone I've known since 1986. (David was a part-time driver for Hoss Ellington. I'll tell that story some other time.) Most people don't know that David got his 105th victory at Darlington (Rebel 500, I think) while filling in for Earnhardt. David talked about that and more. It took 21 years, but Pearson finally became comfortable with me.

I've had better days ... my wedding day comes to mind ... but it's hard to have a better day as a racing writer. They all made the book a lot better. And we shared some good laughs.


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