In the Blink of an Eye: The triumph and tragedy of Michael Waltrip’s 2001 Daytona 500

Imagine, if you can, reaching the pinnacle of your professional career only to find out seconds later that your best friend and mentor has died. That’s what happened to racer Michael Waltrip at the 2001 Daytona 500.

After a 462-race losing streak, Waltrip was offered a ride in a NAPA-sponsored Chevrolet for the ’01 race at Daytona by his dear friend, Dale Earnhardt Sr., whose racing team entered three cars in that race for Waltrip, Earnhardt, and Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr. Waltrip won, followed by Dale Jr. in second place, but a final lap incident put the senior Earnhardt into the concrete wall at speed. Based on the recollection of Kenny Schrader, the first person to get to Dale Sr.’s car after the wreck, it’s likely Earnhardt was killed at impact.

Waltrip’s experience has now been chronicled with In the Blink of an Eye, a full-length film by sports documentarian Paul Taublieb. It is based on Waltrip’s book, In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything.

Unlike his older brother Darrell, a three-time NASCAR champion, Michael Waltrip was never considered a great driver. On the other hand, Michael could get a car around Daytona and NASCAR’s other super-speedway at Taledega pretty quickly, so Earnhardt’s decision to give Waltrip a ride was not just based on friendship.

Likewise, Earnhardt Sr. was not without controversy. You don’t get the nickname “The Intimidator” without bending a few rules and stepping on a few toes (or running over one of your crew members while pitting).

Still, no matter how you feel about Mikey and Dale Sr. as drivers or sportsmen, you have to have at least some compassion for Waltrip as a human being. Waltrip and Earnhardt were exceptionally close, perhaps spending more time together away from the track than on it.

Taped interviews with Waltrip, his ex-wife Buffy, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and NASCAR great Richard Petty are put together with archival footage, some of it rarely seen before, to give human perspective on the racing series’ biggest tragedy.

“People are obviously capable of handling the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Waltrip says in the film’s trailer, his lip quivering and his eyes moistening as he tries to keep it together, “But I don’t know how many people have had to experience them within seconds of each other.”

In the Blink of an Eye is your opportunity to experience it too.

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