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Earnhardt fans remember 'man like no other'

MOORESVILLE, North Carolina (CNN) -- NASCAR fans Monday mourned the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt -- "the greatest driver ever" -- a day after his black No. 3 Chevy Monte Carlo slammed into a wall at 180 mph in the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Outside the headquarters of Dale Earnhardt Inc. in Mooresville, North Carolina, fans left flowers, notes and posters of the man known as "The Intimidator" for his aggressive driving style.

"A man like no other" read one sign. A message on the company's Web site said, "The greatest ever: Alive forever in our hearts."

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Lisa Alley said the entire community was in shock. "We're very sad," she said. "He is Mooresville. He has made Mooresville and people are thankful of that, and they are going to greatly miss him."

Danielle Reeves, a resident who said she first met Earnhardt a few years ago, described him as a "very kind, very funny; very, very, very interesting to speak with."

"When I saw him race yesterday, I thought he'd come in third place. I didn't expect it to be his last race," she said.

Earnhardt was in third place at Daytona -- the speedway where the seven-time Winston Cup champion had made his name -- when his car spun out, hit the outside wall on the final turn and then was hit by another car, which pushed Earnhardt's No. 3 car across the speedway.

Rescue workers attempted CPR while Earnhardt was pinned in his car and then rushed him to a nearby hospital. His wife, Teresa, was at his bedside when he was pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m.

An autopsy was being performed Monday to determine the exact cause of death, and whether any NASCAR safety precautions could be made to prevent such deaths in the future.

"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver ever," NASCAR chairman Bill France said Sunday.

Thousands of Earnhardt fans went to the Internet to offer their condolences. No one in stock-car racing has enjoyed a stronger following.

"I'll never forget watching you race, you were the greatest ever," one person wrote on the Dale Earnhardt Inc. message board.

Another said, "The Intimidator will always be in our minds when we watch a race and it will seem strange not to be on the lookout for him moving through the pack, whether in the middle or in the grass. God bless you."

Earnhardt's fan club, Club E, said it would not be sending out merchandise for the next couple of days out of respect for the family.

Son Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second in Sunday's race, said the family was greatly appreciative of the support of its fans. The elder Earnhardt was a father of four.

"We are equally saddened by the loss, and we appreciate everybody's thoughts and prayers," said Earnhardt Jr. "We'll get through this, and I'm sure he would want us to keep going, so that is what we are going to do."

In a CNNSI interview last week, the older Earnhardt said he was fully aware of the risks involved in his sport -- but he wouldn't trade his lifestyle for anything.

"We know that risk level when we get in the car. I use the best safety equipment I possibly can. We know the risk, but we're racing. There is a danger level," he said. "I'm still around and I've crashed hard several times. ... I've made it through a lot of bad crashes."



RELATED SITES:
The Earnhardt Connection -- Dale Earnhardt NASCAR News
NASCAR.com

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