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Earnhardt remembered as NASCAR's 'last cowboy'

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (CNN) -- The family of Dale Earnhardt and his close friends remembered the racing legend at a small, private funeral Wednesday.

Earnhardt died Sunday when his black No. 3 Monte Carlo slammed into an outside wall in the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Little was known about Wednesday's service, as the family asked that details and the location of the ceremony not be released.

"The family just needs some time," said David Allen of Champion Sports Group, which represents Earnhardt.

The funeral home handling the arrangements, which asked that its name not be used, would say only that funeral services were planned for Wednesday morning at a secret location.


A much larger memorial service is planned for Thursday at Charlotte's largest church, Calvary Church, which can seat up to 7,000 people. That service is invitation-only for Earnhardt's family and members of the race-car circuit.

The public will be able to watch the service on Fox Sports Net.

"Because it is impossible to accommodate the tremendous outpouring of support from those who followed Dale, we are unable to open the service to the public," NASCAR said in a statement.

Allen said the family greatly appreciates the tremendous support Earnhardt fans have given over the past few days, but said it would be impossible to open the service for everyone.

"This is the biggest church in Charlotte and I don't think it will be near big enough," he said. "This is for his racing family to pay their respect to him."

Said Allen, "(Racer) Kyle Petty said it best, 'He was the last cowboy.'"

A friend of Earnhardt's for 21 years, Allen said the racing world is still shocked by the death of arguably NASCAR's greatest driver ever.

"We all knew Earnhardt was the man," he said. "He was the sport of NASCAR and has been for the last two decades."

Earnhardt's body was returned Monday night to his home state of North Carolina for burial.

Earnhardt is a native of nearby Kannapolis, North Carolina, and town officials said a memorial service to honor their hometown hero will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at A.L. Brown High School's auditorium, which seats about 1,500 people.

"It will be standing room only," administrator Larry Woods said.

NASCAR: Earnhardt's death unrelated to rules changes
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Waltrip's win a sad ending to tragic race
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Dale Earnhardt Career Highlights
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The Earnhardt Connection -- Dale Earnhardt NASCAR News

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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