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Remembering Dale Earnhardt

NASCAR community mourns Earnhardt

Earnhardt's legacy will remain

Earnhardt Hall induction no sooner than 2006

Earnhardt family has private funeral

Friday, February 23, 2001
Mystery surrounds whereabouts of gravesite
By Wayne Drehs

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- In a cemetery on the south side of this small, quiet mill town, a gravestone rests with a white No. 8 race car and the name "Earnhardt" etched in its side.

A few feet over sits another Earnhardt grave. Next to that, another.

This is Dale Earnhardt's hometown. The place where "The Intimidator," perhaps NASCAR's greatest driver, was born and raised. The place his mother Martha still calls home.

So it was of little surprise when auto racing fans from both near and far came here Thursday, to Centergrove Lutheran Church Cemetery, to pay their respects to Earnhardt. A memorial service, televised live nationally, was held in Charlotte, some 27 miles away. But Kannapolis is where these NASCAR fans had come to say their goodbyes.

Earnhardt reportedly was buried here Wednesday following a private funeral service attended only by his family and closest friends.

But as fans gathered here Thursday, what they found was nothing.

No overturned dirt. No elaborate canopies. No extraordinary arrangements of flowers. Nothing to signify the burial of the NASCAR legend.

So they made do by huddling around the gravesite of Earnhardt's father, Ralph, a NASCAR legend in his own right. There they came across the No. 8 car with the names Dan, Randy and Dale -- Ralph's three sons -- written on the hood.

"I knew his father pretty well and I thought for sure Dale would be buried here," said one man as walked along the cold, sleet-covered blacktop before climbing into his Chevy. "I can't see why not."

Why not has become the biggest mystery to hit this tight-lipped town since, "Who shot J.R.?"

Nobody will say where, or even if, the auto racing legend was laid to rest in Kannapolis.

In the Kannapolis Independent Tribune, an article quoting an unnamed Earnhardt family member added to the mystery. "I can't make a statement on behalf of the family," the person said, "but we did not attend a burial service for Dale Earnhardt in Kannapolis on Wednesday."

The fans were left to wonder the possible hidden meaning of the quote. Is he buried in a different town? Was he buried at all? Will he be buried in Kannapolis on a different day? Nobody knows. Or at least, no one is saying.

Like Centergrove, Kannapolis' other two major cemeteries -- Memorial Park and Historic Kannapolis Cemetery -- showed little signs of overturned dirt or a recent burial. A secretary for St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Mooresville, which hosted the Earnhardt family's private funeral Wednesday night, said: "I'm not sure, but I don't think he's been buried yet."

A woman at Midway Florist claimed Earnhardt was one of her customers but wouldn't say where he was buried in Kannapolis. She said she preferred not to comment further out of respect for the family. The family was going to great lengths to keep the information private and had used three different funeral homes to keep Wednesday's funeral service private, she said.

The Raymer Funeral Home of Huntersville, charged with overseeing services for the family, said specific information about Earnhardt's burial site would not be made public until next week.

In another story on Tuesday, the Independent Tribune reported Earnhardt's mother, a member of Centergrove Lutheran Church, had considered the cemetery as the final resting spot for her son.

It is possible that with the enormous outpouring of emotion following Earnhardt's death, the family is concerned that Centergrove Cemetery, which features a lone, one-lane driveway, might be too small to handle throngs of visiting fans.

"I think they want to avoid an Elvis situation," Tribune reporter Beth Snead. "You know, how they buried Elvis in a public cemetery, but that there was so much traffic and so many problems they had to move him to Graceland. The family might be worried about that."

On Thursday, with the mere speculation that Earnhardt might have been laid to rest next to his father at Centergrove, cars clogged the cemetery's driveway.

"It's frustrating," said Jeff Rowe, who drove from Charlotte looking for the gravesite. "I thought this would be the place, but I guess not."

Wayne Drehs is a staff reporter for Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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