Banners may be down, but new and improved ‘Dale Trail’ in the works
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS ó The Dale Trail’s race is far from over.
New tourist attractions that were already in the works before the roadside banners marking the route came down are scheduled to come online this fall.
And, as agreed upon by the city of Kannapolis and the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority, a bill for the controversial removal of “Dale Trail” banners from city streets has been sent and will be paid ó keeping the promise made by city officials that taxpayers wouldn’t foot the bill.
Assistant City Manager Eddie Smith provided the Post with a copy of the bill for $2,282.46 for “Labor and equipment associated with the removal and delivery of the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Banners,” delivered to the Tourism Authority last Thursday and payable immediately.
That amount involves labor to remove the banners and package them, and the cost of renting a hoist to do the job.
“Remember, we did not own the banners,” Smith said. “We returned them the day the final ones were taken down.”
DeSales Wagster, president and CEO of the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority, said the attitudes of the city and Castle & Cooke, developer of the N.C. Research Campus, toward the area’s racing legacy were positive.
“We know that in their hearts they really support the Dale Trail idea, and we know that David Murdock does, as well,” Wagster said.
“We certainly were not intimidated into taking them down.”
Wagster said that several of the banners have already been given to members of Dale Earnhardt’s family, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martha Earnhardt, his mother.
“They were high on our list of priorities out of respect for their contributions,” Wagster said.
As for what will happen to the remaining banners ó “That’s a good question,” Wagster said.
“We have had an overwhelming response from the public for the banners, and we have started a list of those who had an interest from the beginning.”
Wagster said several banners have already been given to “historical societies in Cabarrus County,” to the Cabarrus County Public Library and Cabarrus County Schools.
The remainder of the banners are likely to be auctioned, perhaps on eBay.
“The proceeds will go right back into improvements we want to do to the Dale Trail,” Wagster said.
Both Smith and Wagster stress that improvements to one of the county’s biggest tourist attractions were in the works long before anyone thought of removing the banners.
A new self-guided tour using GPS technology and multimedia will be rolled out by October, Wagster said.
For a deposit of a few dollars, families will be able to rent a video player that will direct visitors on a tour of racing destinations in and around Kannapolis.
And Wagster said the same technology can be used to provide tours of textile landmarks and other historic sites.
As for signage, Wagster said plans are in the works for permanent metal “historic landmark”-style signs to mark sites of racing history along the Dale Trail.
From a city perspective, Eddie Smith said discussions started in June regarding new promotional banners to replace those for the Dale Trail.
“The banners had been up for three years,” Smith said. “They were torn and they were dirty.”
In their place, city staff envisions rotating a series of banners with different seasonal themes.
The new banners will mark holidays such as Veteran’s Day and Christmas while also promoting special events and attractions.
“We could have an Earnhardt-themed banner and racing-themed banners for the race in October, for example,” Smith said. “We could have banners for the Kannapolis Intimidators.”
Wagster said that the city is welcome to use the banner hardware that her organization purchased and provided for the Dale Trail markers.
“I think these banners improve the look and the friendliness of any city,” Wagster said. “I would fully support any type of banner program the city would choose. Banners like these can convey important messages.”
One message that has come through loud and clear is the amount of love racing fans near and far have for Dale Earnhardt’s legacy.
Wagster said the company that provides media tracking for the Tourism Authority noted a huge spike in interest related to the Dale Trail saga, which made headlines across the nation.
Those racing fans’ impact on the community is obvious.
“You see them downtown,” Wagster said. “It’s a very important part of our tourism program here in Cabarrus County.”
“We were astounded about how much rhetoric was out there on this topic. We know the passion of our fans, but we were amazed that they really came out about this one.”
Wagster said the banners aren’t the whole story and the city of Kannapolis is on her side.
“We trust them to help us, and in return, we will help them,” she said.