In the Blink of an Eye
By Michael Waltrip
Hardcover, 240 pages
List Price: $24.99
Of course, I hadn't seen any of the TV coverage. I was still blissfully clueless. Although Dale hadn't gotten to Victory Lane yet, I knew he must be on his way.
I had it all figured out.
I guessed he got a piece of that last-lap wreck and was being checked out at the Infield Care Center. I could not wait until he got there and joined our celebration. He had to be so proud.
I mean, this win was more his than it was mine. He was why this all happened. He saw it happening way before I did, way before anyone did. He believed I could win all along, even before he hired me. He coached me all winter, and he directed the preparation of my #15 cars. Then, that meeting Friday. Wow! He called it! He called it and we did it!
I had it all pictured in my mind, him walking up with that mischievous grin all over his face that seemed to say, "Hey, I told you so. Hell, I told everyone so."
I wanted a hug, too. One like he had given Dale Junior when Junior won the All-Star Race in 2000. That was one of those moments that made me cry. And I wasn't even there when it happened. I'd just seen it on TV. But I knew how much it meant to the two of them.
I knew Dale, and I knew joy when I saw it, and that moment in Victory Lane with his son was joyous. I was about to receive that same type of approval, the I-knew-you-would-win-for-me validation I desperately needed. So as all the accolades of winning the Daytona 500 were being showered on me I kept wondering, Where's Dale?
I kept glancing at the entrance of Victory Lane. I was sure that any moment Big E was going to walk through there and give me what I wanted more than a trophy or a check. He was going to walk in there, start slapping everybody on the back, and say, "This is why all of you are on my team. I knew all of you were winners."
While the photographers took pictures and I smiled, I wondered: So what's taking Dale so long to get here?
He probably stopped to see Dale Junior. Junior did just finish second in the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time Cup Series champion driver, now could add owner of the first- and second-place finishers, a one-two finish, in the Daytona 500, to his impressive résumé. A lot of reporters probably wanted to talk to him about that.
Meanwhile, I was still doing interviews, posing for pictures, swapping hats, all the stuff I'd watched other people do for the past sixteen years, and I was loving every minute of it. It was my time to shine, and my smile was bigger than it had ever been. This scene would be complete as soon as Dale showed up.
I hope Dale Junior comes with him too, I was thinking. The three of us did this together. What could be better than the three of us being together in Victory Lane?
Man, where were they?
Heck, when I won the All-Star race, Dale was one of the first people to Victory Lane to congratulate me. He even beat my brother there. And Dale was only partly responsible for that win. He just put me and Wood Brothers together. He set it up. But we had to do the rest on our own. But not today. He put me in his car. He told me how we were going to win the race. And on the track, he made sure it all went down just like he said.
Between looking for Dale, I was still living in the hectic pace of Victory Lane. "Smile here, Mike." "Smile there, Mike." "Talk to Fox Dallas, Mike." "Talk to the local Fox affiliate, Mike."
But still no Dale.
I was beginning to grow a bit frustrated. I asked Buffy, Ty, and a couple of crew guys to find out where Dale was and why he wasn't there yet. They all told me similar things. "He's on his way. He'll be here in a minute." And I bought that. Maybe Dale was giving me time to enjoy win number one with my new team. But that didn't make any sense. This was his new team too. I couldn't figure out why he wasn't there.
It seemed like he would have had plenty of time to be checked out at the track hospital, then stop to congratulate Dale Junior and make it here by now. But I just kept trying to justify why he wasn't there yet. I knew every reporter in Daytona would like to hear an answer from maybe the greatest NASCAR racer ever, winner of the 1998 Daytona 500 and some seventy other races: "How did you take a guy who had gone 0 for 462, put him behind the wheel, and have him go one for one? How did you do that, Dale? How's that possible?"
And I wanted to ask Dale the same thing. "How did you do that?" Clearly, it wasn't just an accident. You did it. "You planned it, and you made it happen today."
Finally, somebody I knew turned up.
It was Kenny Schrader. He'd been out there in the middle of all that mess with me. And now, I assumed, he came to say congratulations. When I saw Schrader coming toward me, I thought of my first win with the team I started behind my house. I beat him in a NASCAR West race in Colorado. We battled door to door, and I pulled away at the end. When I got to the airport that night, he'd written a note and stuck it on my plane.
"You are a wiener!" he wrote. "Congratulations, friend."
Kenny and I were buddies, and it was great to see him walking into Victory Lane. I had a trophy in my hand, confetti on my head, and a can-you-believe-this look on my face.
I said, "Schrader, look. I won the Daytona 500."
But this Kenny Schrader I was looking at, he didn't look right. And he wasn't acting right either. Certainly not the way I had expected him to. He should have been smiling, I thought. He must have been having trouble putting the moment into words.
"I know this is a bit of an upset," I joked. "But is it really that shocking that I actually won a race? You're speechless?"
Then he reached out and grabbed me, squeezing both my arms below my elbows. I didn't understand what he was doing. He didn't say a word. But I could tell he was upset.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
Excerpted from In the Blink of an Eye by Michael Waltrip. Copyright 2011 by Michael Waltrip. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved.Available wherever books are sold.