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It still hurts as much as it did that Sunday afternoon in February 2001.

It still hurts just thinking about our reactions as we watched the Daytona 500, clapping for winner Michael Waltrip while wondering why they weren’t showing the crash in turn 4.

It still hurts to think about the moment when we turned on the television or heard the news on the radio later that cold evening — our hero was gone.

It still hurts knowing that Dale Earnhardt is not here.

And no matter how many years pass or how many new NASCAR drivers come and go, our hearts still feel that jarring pain that we felt on that fateful day 15 years ago when the popular NASCAR driver was killed on the last lap of the big race.

In the months that passed after the tragedy, we all went on. We worked and went to races and tried to find another driver to root for. We raised three fingers in the air and celebrated as his son returned to Daytona in July to take the checkered flag.

And as the tragic year of 2001 drew to a close, we watched as Garth Brooks walked up on that stage in New York City at the somber NASCAR Awards Banquet and sang the song “The Dance” amid a backdrop of memories.

It still hurts. But that song rings truer than ever.

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