Dale Earnhardt Sr.

It’s hardly the kind of day anyone wants to commemorate, but it’s got to be done: eight years ago, on February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr. died after being involved in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500.

It doesn’t overstate things to say that NASCAR hasn’t been the same since.

While Earnhardt Sr. was reportedly beginning what would be his last season, he remained the single most galvanizing force in NASCAR, loved and hated in equal measure, each emotion hugely beneficial to the sport. He was far and away the most powerful voice in the garage, the driver who controlled the dialogue and had NASCAR’s ear.

As it always has in the past when other great drivers are killed, the sport carried on; it’s a sure bet, however, that some how, some way, things would be different had he not died. At the very least, it’s inarguable that no one among the drivers has been able to fill the leadership vacuum left by his sudden death. NASCAR is the poorer for it. NASCAR fans are unquestionably the poorer for it.