By Chad Bonham
2001 Daytona 500: Daytona International Speedway (February 18, 2001)
The 2001 Daytona 500 should have gone down in NASCAR history as one of the greatest finishes ever. In many ways, that argument could still be legitimately made. Michael Waltrip certainly wishes that were the case. After 462 starts without a win, he finally made it to Victory Lane on racing’s biggest stage.
Earlier that day, Waltrip made a seemingly innocuous agreement with Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Dale Beaver. If he won the race, which was a long shot at best, he would sing a song that his three-year old daughter Macy often sang after attending kid’s church at the track.
This is the day, this is the day
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made
I will rejoice, I will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it
The song is derived from an oft-quoted passage from the Book of Psalms:
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
A few hours later and after one exhilarating final lap, Waltrip somehow crossed the start/finish line ahead of 42 cars including his teammates Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had worked together to help push him to victory. During his post-race interview with Fox Sports reporter Dick Berggren, Waltrip suddenly remembered his promise to Beaver, but couldn’t quite recall the tune of the song. So instead, he blurted out what came to mind in the moment.
“This is the day that the Lord has made!”
But unfortunately, the celebration didn’t last long. As Waltrip headed to the media center for more press responsibilities, he heard the devastating news. Dale Earnhardt had died in the crash that took place just before the end of the race.
“I will never forget that,” Beaver later said in the book Faith in the Fast Lane. “He got to Victory Lane and forgot the words. But he ended up quoting it. I find it interesting that the day Dale was killed, Michael was thinking about that kids’ song. It just seemed to be a providential thing.”
For Waltrip, the following days and weeks were a blur. He struggled to reconcile the jubilation of that career-defining moment with the realization that his longtime friend was gone, and he had died trying to help him win. Initially, Waltrip tried to utilize his affable personality to help others cope with the tragedy.
“Lying in bed, I determined that since I’m a Christian, I believe we all have our days – our days are numbered,” he recounted while promoting his book In The Blink of An Eye. “I figured it was Dale’s day to die, and I was the best person to win the race and be able to honor him in the victory…I think I woke up the next day determined to do all I could to make other people feel better about what had happened that day.”
But for Waltrip, it was a much longer process of recovery. It took him nearly ten years to gain the strength and the courage to write everything down and share his story with the NASCAR community. Eventually, Waltrip was able to get back to that jubilant spirit that everyone had known and loved. He even began regularly sharing Psalm 118:24 with nearly half a million Twitter followers on race days including the morning of the 2016 Cup Finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This is the day that the lord has made,” Waltrip posted. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Then let’s race! @NASCAR #Chase”
This devotional is brought to you by Museum of the Bible, a 430,000 square foot museum being constructed 3 blocks south of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. and is set to open in November of 2017.
(Photos: NASCAR Media; Michael Waltrip via Twitter)