- Stream ‘Blink of an Eye,’ a Documentary About Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and NASCAR, on the MotorTrend App Starting Now!
Stream ‘Blink of an Eye,’ a Documentary About Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and NASCAR, on the MotorTrend App Starting Now!
When Dale Earnhardt died in the 2001 Daytona 500, the racing world and one of his best friends were never the same.
It was the crash heard around the world: Dale Earnhardt, inarguably NASCAR's biggest star, was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001.
You already know that. What you may not know is how his death affected one of his best friends: Michael Waltrip, until then a journeyman driver who, for that Daytona 500, had been given a chance to shine in the most competitive car he'd ever had, the NAPA NO. 15 Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc.
And shine he did. Waltrip won the Daytona 500, the sport's biggest event, breaking a 462-race losing streak. Adding to the feel-good story was the fact Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, right behind Waltrip. Crossing under the checkered flag, for all Waltrip knew the third-place finisher was Dale Sr., "The Intimidator," in the sleek black No. 3 Chevrolet owned by Earnhardt's longtime friend and employer, Richard Childress.
But coming into the race's final turn, Earnhardt collided with Sterling Marlin as Earnhardt tried to block Marlin, protecting that third-place finish, as well as the one-two up ahead featuring one of his best friends, who had turned in the drive of his life, and his son. Earnhardt hit the outside wall, in a crash that looked no more serious than the majority of weekly incidents. But it was serious enough to kill Earnhardt, who was 49.
As Waltrip sprayed champagne in Victory Lane, he had no idea that the man who had given him the opportunity to be there was gone.
"A lot of us have tremendous highs and devastating lows," Waltrip told us. "But to have them within the same hour..."
A decade after the crash, in 2011, Waltrip wrote an autobiography, "In the Blink of an Eye," which became a New York Times Best Seller that caught the attention of a Monster Energy executive. His company financed a documentary based on the book.
Less than two weeks before the 2020 Daytona 500—for which Waltrip will be a Fox Sports TV broadcaster—"Blink of an Eye" began streaming exclusively on the MotorTrend App on February 3.
The documentary joins more than 3,500 hours of automotive content streaming on the MotorTrend app, now available for just $2 per month—subscribe here today if you have not already. Along with "Blink of an Eye," the MotorTrend app includes exclusive MotorTrend original series, hit shows from MotorTrend and Discovery Channel, live events, motorsports including the "Ultimate Collection of Top Gear," the upcoming "NASCAR ALL IN: Battle For Daytona" limited series, "Roadkill," and more.
"Blink of an Eye" not only details the career of Waltrip, who went on to win a second Daytona 500 in 2003 and to field his own successful NASCAR team, but provides a lot of insight into Earnhardt and a side not often seen by fans.
"There were two Dale Earnhardts," Waltrip said. "The Intimidator," characterized by the brushy mustache and the steel-blue gunfighter's eyes, and an attitude that suggested he would never back down. And then there was the Earnhardt his family and closest friends saw: fun-loving, typically cheerful, but always calculating the odds.
Earnhardt's friendship with Waltrip, now 56, was a strange and unexpected one, observes Dale Earnhardt Jr. in "Blink of an Eye." Waltrip, the younger brother of NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip by 16 years, was something of the clown prince of NASCAR, with a personality that was always out there, laughing, joking, entertaining others. Earnhardt was far more reserved, but you can tell from footage of Waltrip and friends aboard "Sunday Money," Earnhardt's 74-foot Hatteras yacht, that Earnhardt was among those who were entertained. He also believed Waltrip was a far better driver than his record showed, and Earnhardt developed a team to showcase his friend's talent. Waltrip proved in the first race that Earnhardt was right.
But afterward, in the "show must go on" world of NASCAR, both Waltrip and Earnhardt Jr. had to race the very next week, and for the entire season that lay ahead of them, because "that's what Dale would have wanted." The bereaved, disconsolate driver and team found it harder than they imagined.
Waltrip himself "turned into a person I'd didn't like very much," he admitted to us. He never got any therapy after the loss of his friend and employer—"I don't know about you, but that's just not me"—but the healing nature of time and maturity have left Michael Waltrip in a place he finds comfortable.
While he found the book to be a sort of gentle therapy, the "Blink of an Eye" documentary, written and directed by filmmaker Paul Taublieb, "took me to places I've never been," Waltrip said. "I think the product speaks for itself."
Indeed, it does. Among those interviewed include an emotional Darrell Waltrip, as well as "The King," Richard Petty, team owner Richard Childress, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR President Mike Helton, and Waltrip's ex-wife, Buffy, who was there for it all, until the couple divorced in 2010.
One thing the film doesn't dwell on is Earnhardt's actual death, caused by "basilar skull fracture," caused when the sudden stop from the crash causes a driver's head to snap forward, breaking the bone at the base of the skull. It's the same thing that killed Adam Petty, Richard's son, as well as Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper. In an eight-month period from July 2000 to February 2001, when Earnhardt was killed, NASCAR lost four drivers to the same cause. In response, the series, as well as other racing series, mandated use of the HANS (head and neck support) device, a molded collar and a series of straps that connect to a driver's helmet to prevent it, and the driver's head, from snapping forward in an impact. Since then, no NASCAR driver has died from a basilar skull fracture.
The device was available in 2001, but Earnhardt was strictly old-school, eschewing not only the HANS but even the safer closed-face helmet. In that sense, he was one of the last of the breed—the old-school gunfighter who walked onto the field of battle with only his trusted, time-tested equipment. His death forced NASCAR to take action, and it has no doubt saved many drivers' lives since.
"Blink of an Eye" is a powerful story of a man and his understudy, and that understudy's effort to carry on after the best and worst day of his life, and you don't have to be an Earnhardt or Michael Waltrip fan—or even a NASCAR fan—to appreciate it. Watch it now on the MotorTrend App.