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Spring festival pauses for Earnhardt memorial

At Country in the Park, two of the racing champion's cars will be displayed and a short service will be held.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- This city will pause for a few quiet moments during its annual spring celebration to remember one of auto racing's greats: Dale Earnhardt.

The memorial is planned for 3 p.m. (in honor of his No. 3 racing car) during the March 17 Country in the Park festivities. Two of Earnhardt's race cars will be on display for the day. The event will be at the England Brothers Band Shell in the park immediately to the north of City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N.

Plans for the memorial were being worked out Friday, said Kathy Witherington, Pinellas Park's city clerk who has been in charge of getting the race cars each year for Country in the Park. Witherington also is an Earnhardt fan, and she will oversee the memorial.

Witherington wants fans to bring things with the number 3 on them. And she wants to get permission from WQYK 99.5 FM and 1010 AM to use a Garth Brooks song that the station reworked using racing references.

"Just a simple, maybe 10-minute thing, then a moment of silence," Witherington said.

In case fans can't get enough of the cars at Country in the Park, they will be on display the next day at Pinellas ParkSide mall, 7200 U. S. 19 N.

Earnhardt's death during the Feb. 18 Daytona 500 at first cast uncertainty on the possibility of having the race cars come for the festival. But last week, Richard Childress Racing Enterprises Inc., which sponsored Earnhardt and owned the cars, agreed to send two of Earnhardt's cars and another driven by Mike Skinner.

RCR withdrew the black No. 3 car, like the one Earnhardt was driving when he died.

"It didn't surprise me that they pulled the black No. 3 out of respect," Witherington said.

On display will be the No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Peter Max car and the No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Bass Pro Shop car.

Earnhardt drove the Peter Max car in the Winston Select race at Charlotte, N.C., last May, said Frances Gregory, a spokeswoman for RCR racing. Earnhardt drove the Bass Pro Shop car in the 1998 Winston Select.

The Peter Max car is named after the artist, who replaced Earnhardt's traditional stealth black paint on the Chevrolet Monte Carlo with his signature wild colors. The car was to be used specifically for the Winston Select and the Coca-Cola 600, also held at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

The third car on display will be the No. 31 Lowe's Army car driven by Mike Skinner at the Coca-Cola 600 last year. The paint job was part of an annual salute to the armed forces during the Memorial Day weekend. Last year was the first time that tribute continued into the race with five cars painted for each of the service branches.

As a special treat for race fans, Witherington will be holding a silent auction for a piece of metal from the Lowe's Army car. Proceeds will benefit the Pinellas Park police Explorers.

For more information, call Witherington at (727) 541-0706.

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