Commentary

The Dale Trail

Connecting the dots from Dale Earnhardt's amazing life

Updated: April 9, 2010, 10:57 AM ET
By Ryan McGee | Special to ESPN Insider

The following article appears in the Dale Earnhardt Hall of Fame collector's issue magazine, the digital version of which is free for all ESPN Insiders.

David BurnettMartha Earnhardt is used to fans looking for her son's childhood home.

From her front porch at the corner of Coach Street and Sedan Avenue, Martha Earnhardt watches the traffic ease by. She can tell almost immediately which vehicles belong to locals merely passing through the Kannapolis, N.C., neighborhood they call Car Town and she knows in an instant which ones are there searching for her house.

The lookie-loos are usually in Chevys, painted black with slanted, white 3 stickers slapped on the windows. Others come in tour buses, which turn off of the four-lane madness of Dale Earnhardt Boulevard and slow down at the first sight of the white, one-story mill house and two-door garage out back. On the edge of the finely manicured lawn is a small yard flag with an embroidered script E. "There it is!" she hears them chattering. "That's the house where Dale grew up!"

These are the riders of the Dale Trail, a winding pilgrimage that cuts through the heart of the Carolina piedmont, a real-life interactive time line of the Earnhardt family. Official Trail map in hand, they connect the dots that produced Dale Earnhardt's legendary life. In the near decade since his death, it has become NASCAR's Graceland.

For the most part, the gawkers pass Martha's house quickly. Others get brave -- some say rude -- and knock on her door. When they do, she's always polite, content to hear people spill out their memories about her son. They might ask to take her picture or buy one of her cookbooks, and then they head off down the Trail. "I'm always amazed by the number of people who loved, and still love, my son," she says. "At first, I was worried about talking to them. I was afraid I'd get too emotional. But it's not painful. It's just sharing good stories and a mutual love for Dale."

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR