Fans quick to get items to remember Earnhardt
Updated: Friday March 23, 2001 2:55 PM
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (CNNSI.com) - A day after Dale Earnhardt's death, anything and everything with his name on it became the country's hottest sports merchandise.
T-shirts, jackets, hats, posters and die-cast replicas of his famed black No. 3 Chevrolet were among the Intimidator's items cleared off store shelves.
Getting hold of the memorabilia became a challenge at best. In many cases it was impossible.
Mike Wininger, a manager of a Kmart near Daytona International Speedway, said anything adorned with Earnhardt's name left "by the buggy-fulls" Monday.
"As soon as everyone heard, they were like vultures," he said.
It was the same situation at the Phoenix International Raceway Shop, where fans bought more Earnhardt mementos in the first hour than they normally do in a month.
"I had people waiting when I came in this morning," said Steve Ward, the shop manager.
One woman who was too sick to make it to the store called to say she had $300 to spend on Earnhardt items.
"She wants one of everything," Ward said.
There was still plenty of merchandise for drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and even Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But nothing with the seven-time Winston Cup champion, who died Sunday after crashing on the final turn of the final lap while Michael Waltrip was racing to victory.
"Our phones are ringing off the hook. Everyone is sold out," said Fred Wagenhals, president of Action Performance Companies, licensed to make and distribute Earnhardt merchandise.
He said he would wait until next week before determining whether his company needed to make more products to meet the demand.
Ordering from NASCAR.com wasn't any better. A message from the online store said: "Out of respect to Dale Earnhardt, his immediate family, all the employees of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and all his fans and friends, NASCAR.com Store is currently not accepting orders on Dale Earnhardt products."
Earnhardt was one of the first athletes to realize the value of his name and likeness. He copyrighted his signature and used images of his car and mustachioed face for anything fans were willing to buy.
The man in black was a smooth-running industry onto himself, bringing in tens of millions of dollars each year as the best-selling driver.
So, it was no surprise when his death caused a run on shops that sell NASCAR merchandise.
At Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, more than two dozen NASCAR fans waited for the doors to open at the souvenir shop.
Tom Odum, a 12-year Earnhardt fan, spent more than $100 on a baseball cap with Earnhardt's signature, a coffee mug with his name on it and a scale model of the Chevrolet he drove when he won the 1998 Daytona 500.
"I'm just a real big fan of Dale's and I want to continue on supporting him and his family," the youngster said. "We just lost a real champion."
At Field of Dreams, a sports collectible store in Dallas, everything related to Earnhardt was sold out an hour after the store opened.
"It's been pretty crazy out there," general manager Mark Phillips said. "His merchandise was the most demanded, bar none, in racing or any motor sport."
Wayne's Diecast World in Wetumpka, Ala., was overrun with customers.
"They want anything with Earnhardt -- his car, his shirt, anything," assistant manager Janey Hand said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.