Reactions mixed on ‘Dale Trail’ banners
By Sarah Nagem
KANNAPOLIS ó Locals had mixed reactions Friday about the “Dale Trail” banners coming down.
Some said removing the banners is disrespectful to the memory of racecar driver Dale Earnhardt, a Kannapolis native who died in a Daytona 500 wreck in 2001.
Others said, frankly, they didn’t care one way or the other.
Jeryl Smith, a 59-year-old China Grove resident, falls into the first category.
“There wouldn’t be (a) Kannapolis if it wasn’t for him,” Smith said as he ate his dinner at What-A-Burger Friday evening. “He took Cannon Mills’ place.”
But everyone doesn’t hold Earnhardt to the same level as a textile giant. Put Rudy Valentino, a Concord resident, in that second category.
“I’m into football,” Valentino said at the Auto Zone, where he works as an assistant manager.
“One person doesn’t make a city,” he said.
Some people might say Earnhardt didn’t make Kannapolis what it is today. But his sports legacy has remained present here ó even as California billionaire David Murdock has developed the N.C. Research Campus, which is shifting regional focus to the sciences.
City Manager Mike Legg wrote in a memo last month that Castle & Cooke ó Murdock’s company that is developing the research campus ó wants the tattered banners to come down because a “pretty important guest” is coming to town.
In the memo, Legg wrote that the city might want to hold off on more Dale gear so officials can decide what banners should go up. Castle & Cooke, he wrote, wants the tagline “Home to Science” on “all that we do.”
On Friday, Phyllis Beaver, director of marketing for the N.C. Research Campus, said discussions about removing the banners began a couple of years ago.
Castle & Cooke has destroyed 6 million square feet of old textile buildings to make way for the research campus, Beaver said.
“We have had more than our share of dust and dirt in our area,” she said.
“(The banners) were torn and dirty, and, I thought, disrespectful to have them up like that.”
Beaver dismissed the idea that the banners are coming down for a mystery guest ó she said she doesn’t know who’s visiting today.
“Anytime that Mr. Murdock comes to town … we always spruce up a bit,” she said.
As for Earnhardt memorabilia on the “Dale Trail,” Beaver said the company is considering switching banners on a regular basis.
For example, she said, they might put up Intimidators banners for a big game or symphony banners for musical events.
“Will the Dale flag go up and stay up all year long?” Beaver said. “Probably not.”
But Earnhardt banners could be flown on his birthday or for special occasions, she said.
She doesn’t think that will cause problems in the loyal world of racing.
“NASCAR and race fans have always found a way to Kannapolis without the flags,” Beaver said.
That’s not enough to convince Ray Vanderburg, a China Grove resident.
“I think they should leave them up,” he said. “It’s the best known thing about Kannapolis. A hometown man being honored.”
But Vanderburg said he’s not a big race fan, so he isn’t too upset about it. He did say, however, that removing the banners is disrespectful to Earnhardt’s memory.
” ‘Cause his mother still lives here,” Vanderburg explained.
The banner news ó along with rumors that today’s guest might be Oprah Winfrey ó made its way across some sports Web sites Friday, sparking readers to share their comments.
At www.cupscene.com, one person wrote that she had sent Kannapolis Mayor Robert Misenheimer an e-mail in protest of the Dale banners coming down. She encouraged others to do the same.
On the Salisbury Post Web site, online readers shared their thoughts.
Some people who left online comments criticized the actions of Murdock and his company.
“Just change Kannapolis to Murdock town who cares,” one anonymous writer posted.
Another writer posted this comment: “The research campus may represent progress, but progress does not require that history be forgotten. Shame on David Murdock for this clumsy act that dishonors Kannapolis and its residents.”
Other people wrote that bringing the banners down is a good idea.
“Money talks people!” one commenter posted. “I see the removal of those banners as an improvement anyway.”
Elaine Smith, who is Jeryl Smith’s wife, doesn’t see it that way.
“I think he represents the town of Kannapolis,” she said of Earnhardt. “He was born here.”
One man, who didn’t want to be named, was sitting across from the Smiths at What-A-Burger on Friday.
He said he’s not bothered by the banners coming down.
“They aren’t taking down the statue, are they?” he asked, just to be sure.
No, the 9-foot bronze statue of Earnhardt, which Murdock helped pay for, is staying put.
The man at the restaurant said he won’t get worked up about banners that recognize someone who chose to move away from his hometown
“I’m totally a Senior fan, a Junior fan,” he said. “But they both moved out of Kannapolis.”
Even so, as if in tribute to racing ó or the familiar local name ó he was wearing a Budweiser hat, complete with Dale Junior’s signature stitched in.