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(another great article on Dale and Andy Pilgrim at the Rolex 2001. Make sure you click on the link to view a couple of photographs that were posted)

Sharing Final Moments and a Driver's Seat With Dale
Earnhardt
By Holly Cain
Senior Motorsports Writer


"So, you got any advice for me here coming up?'' Dale Earnhardt radioed to
Andy Pilgrim while slowly driving caution laps around Daytona International
Speedway, preparing for the final race restart with 21 laps to go in the
2001 Daytona 500.

Only two weeks earlier, the NASCAR icon had co-driven to a runner-up GT
Class finish in the historic Rolex 24 at Daytona with the sports car champ
Pilgrim (second from left above), who was now sitting with his girlfriend
and Earnhardt's wife, Teresa, hooked up to the race team's radio in the
couple's private motorcoach in the speedway's infield. A pair of motorcycle
policemen had just arrived outside and were waiting to escort them all from
the track after the race.

"When he said that to me, I just started laughing and thinking to myself,
'Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time NASCAR champion, is asking me, a road racer,
what to do in the Daytona 500,' '' Pilgrim recalled. "I told him, 'No, man,
I haven't got any advice for you, just keep doing what you're doing.' '''

"Okay, just wondering,'' Earnhardt good-naturedly replied, his words getting
cut off by his spotter, who was alerting him the race was going green on the
next lap.

"I told him, 'Cheers, talk to you later,' '' Pilgrim said. "And there was no
more radio communication other than him cheering on and yelling for Michael
(Waltrip) and (Dale Earnhardt) Junior.

"Then, 10 minutes later, he was gone.

"The black Suburban was there for us, the two cops on motorcycles. ... but
he never came,'' recalled Pilgrim, who vividly and painfully remembers just
sitting in the motorcoach for another hour or more waiting on news.

Earnhardt was pronounced dead at Daytona Beach's Halifax Medical Center,
having suffered a massive head injury when his famous No. 3 Goodwrench
Chevrolet hit the wall in the last turn on the last lap of that afternoon's
Daytona 500.

The last time Pilgrim had been at Daytona's high banks, he and Earnhardt had
stood alongside one another in the Winner's Circle, standing on the podium
spraying champagne and celebrating their second-place finish in the GT class
of the Rolex 24. It was a highlight of their short-lived friendship.

Despite their different backgrounds, they had an instant bonding of mutual
respect, even if Pilgrim was admittedly and understandably often swept up in
the Earnhardt awe.

"It was the effect he had on regular people, that's the whole thing for
me,'' Pilgrim told AOL FanHouse in the first in-depth interview he's given
about his relationship with Earnhardt and that fateful February day 10 years
ago.

"The racing part is almost immaterial, honest to God. Being around someone
who had that kind of effect on people, you cannot fail to care and just be
impressed. I was just moved many times in the years afterward from people
who met Dale.
"The black Suburban was there for us, the two cops on motorcycles... but he
never came."
-- Andy Pilgrim
"If they met him once in autograph line, they had a story to tell that was a
highlight in their life -- the fact (that) he might have said something to
them in that one time they waited in line.

"He was just a special man,'' Pilgrim said. "The more I knew about him, the
worse I felt (about him dying). It was almost like a twilight zone for five
months and then, snap. .. gone.

"It was just very, very strange.''

Pilgrim, now the lead driver for the factory-Cadillac effort in the SCCA
World Challenge Series, still has what he calls a "very personal" thank you
note from Earnhardt that arrived in the mail only four days before his
death.

Equally as cherished is the letter that initiated the drivers' partnership
and friendship five months earlier. It reveals as much about Dale the person
as it does Dale the racer.

It came in October, 2000, only two days after Pilgrim had made international
racing headlines with what's now referred to as the "Pilgrim Pass'' -- a
daring, aggressive, last-lap Earnhardt-esque pass to give Chevrolet a
victory over the heavily-favored Dodge Viper in the prestigious Petit LeMans
sports car race at Road Atlanta.

Pilgrim initially thought the FedEx package he received was an errant
delivery. He'd never ordered anything from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and couldn't
figure out why he'd be getting a letter from a NASCAR team.

"I still have the letter and, to paraphrase, it says, 'Dear Andy, Wow, that
was some pass you made on that Viper. That pass is exactly why I want you to
be my teammate for the 24 hours of Daytona.

'You obviously know how to rub paint so I can't teach you how to rub paint.
So now you've gotta teach me how to drive that Corvette.'

"And he signed it, 'Sincerely, Dale Earnhardt.' ''

Dale Earnhardt, the NASCAR icon, "The Intimidator," was inviting Andy
Pilgrim, the humble, soft-spoken British-born sports car superstar, to
co-drive with him and his son Dale Jr. in the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Earnhardt had seen Pilgrim's amazing pass on a highlight reel during ESPN's
RPM Tonight show that weekend. Three weeks later, he hosted Pilgrim at a
press conference at DEI's headquarters outside Charlotte, N.C. to announce
the Rolex 24 deal with Earnhardt, Pilgrim, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and eventually
sportscar veteran Kelly Collins -- and to unveil the factory-backed No. 3
Corvette they would steer.

The announcement came the day after what would be Earnhardt's final NASCAR
victory -- one of the most spectacular performances among many spectacular
performances -- when he passed 17 cars in the final four laps to win at
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Yet, all Earnhardt wanted to do when he met Pilgrim the next morning was
talk about Pilgrim's last-lap run at the Petit LeMans.

"Man, that was some pass you made on the Viper, unbelievable,'' Earnhardt
told Pilgrim as they shook hands for the first time.

"I told him, 'Well, you did pretty good at Talladega yesterday, too,' ''
Pilgrim said, laughing at the understatement then and now.

"And he says to me, 'Yeah, yeah, but I don't want to talk about that, I want
to talk about the Corvettes.' He grabs me and turns me around to face all
these NASCAR journalists and says, 'Do you guys know who this is? Did you
see the pass this guy made on the Viper?'

Pilgrim smiles, remembering the scene, "It was just the most bizarre,
coolest moment. And that's how I met Dale.''

From then on, it was a surreal mix of get-to-business and get-to-know-ya.

From that day on, Earnhardt would often randomly call Pilgrim to check in
and just shoot the breeze.

"I remember one time my phone rings and my parents were here visiting from
England and we're all having dinner,'' Pilgrim said. "Dale calls, tells me
to say hi to my mom and dad for him then wants my opinion on some mopeds he
was going to buy.''

When it came to the sports cars, Earnhardt was an eager student and
not-surprisingly quick study. It had been important to him to be as
well-regarded and successful on the road courses as he was on the
superspeedways and short-tracks and the Rolex 24 is a world-renowned event.

"He was very competitive and really pushed himself to learn,'' Pilgrim said.
"He said, 'If I'm screwing up, tell me, don't be easy on me. If me and
Junior are screwing up, tell us and we'll work on it. We're not just coming
here (to ride around), we want to do as well as we can.' ''

The group had only two brief testing weekends with the Corvette before the
2001 Rolex 24 weekend rolled around. But that didn't prepare the Earnhardts
for the massive rain showers that tormented the twice-around-the-clock race.
Unlike in NASCAR, sports cars race in the wet and Earnhardt was up for the
challenge with Pilgrim coaching him corner-by-corner, lap-by-lap.

"Once he figured out where the tricky parts were, he was as fast as
anyone,'' Pilgrim said. "In fact, he was phenomenal. He just had this
incredible feel. Both he and Junior were three-tenths faster than all of us
guys on the oval portion. Every lap.''

It wasn't until October of 2001 that Pilgrim first saw a photograph from
that Rolex 24 (below) that is now among his most treasured possessions.

It depicts the scene immediately after the race. A somewhat dejected Pilgrim
had just climbed out of the Corvette after a grueling last driving stint and
the team was preparing to meet up in victory lane to accept their runner-up
trophy.

"Earnhardt's walking toward me on pit lane and has his big leather jacket on
over his racing suit and he gets closer to me and he says, 'You tired, boy?'
and smiles.'' Pilgrim said, pausing and smiling as he recalled Earnhardt's
wide smirk and then the precise moment the photo was snapped.

"Then he grabs me around the shoulder, leans in and says in my ear,

'Second sucks, don't it, son?' "

http://motorsports.fanhouse.com/2011/02/10/ten-years-after-sharing-final-moments-and-a-drivers-seat-with/
 
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