Thousands Gather for Earnhardt Memorial Service

ByABC News
February 22, 2001, 11:34 AM

Feb. 22 -- Dale Earnhardt Sr. was laid to rest in his hometown Wednesday night, and today his family and fans gathered for a memorial service for the Winston Cup circuit's premier driver.

Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash during Sunday's Daytona 500, was buried in Kannapolis, N.C. after a private funeral service for his family at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Mooresville, N.C.

Today, on a cold, damp day in Charlotte, N.C., invited guests gathered at Calvary Church, which seats 6,000 people, for a 22-minute service to celebrate the life of the seven-time Winston Cup champion.

Chaplain Urges People to Laugh and Pray

The memorial service began at noon local time with an acoustic song by Randy Owen of the country western group Alabama. The service was broadcast live nationally and was attended by the royalty of the stock car world, including Sterling Marlin, Junior Johnson, Terry and Bobby Labonte and Bobby and Donnie Allison.

Earnhardt was remembered today as a husband, father and friend, with little focus on his successful racing career and driving style that earned him the moniker "The Intimidator."

The simple service concluded when Earnhardt's emotional wife Teresa was escorted up to the pulpit, where she looked out at the guests, blew a kiss and whispered with both hands in the air, "Thank you."

Pastor John Cozart of St. Mark's Lutheran Church delivered the opening prayer standing beside a flower arrangement in the shape of a large "3," the number of Earnhardt's racing car.

Dale Beaver, Winston Cup chaplain, urged the congregation to do three things: tell stories about Earnhardt, to laugh and listen as they remember those stories, and to pray. Following Beaver's words, Owen sang the song "Angels Among Us."

Freezing Rain Cant Keep Fans Away

Although the weather was cold with freezing rain and the service was closed to the public, hundreds of fans from around the United States gathered outside the church to pay their respects to Earnhardt.