NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just achieved a dream when he survived a fiery jet crash Thursday afternoon with his wife, Amy, and 1-year-old daughter, Isla Rose.
Four hours before the Cessna burst into flames at an airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, Earnhardt posted on Facebook that he finally found one particular artifact connected to the career of his legendary father, the late Dale Earnhardt.
“Most folks know I have in my possession the NOVA that dad raced in @xfinityracing during the mid 1980s,” Earnhardt wrote in his Thursday Facebook post. “I recently got ahold of the uniform he used to win a handful of races in that car. Pretty awesome to pair the two items.”
It’s a post that has since gotten nearly 37,000 reactions, shares and comments, but few are actually about the uniform itself.
Fans are now using that post as a way to share their concerns about the crash, both with Earnhardt and with other fans.
“I’m so thankful you and your precious family are safe! That had to be so scary!” posted Kristy Tackett. “Your Guardian Angels were on their toes and especially the ones on ground who came so quick to help!”
“Cannot imagine what you must have gone through on that plane. Horrible shock but thank the Good Lord that you all are okay,” wrote Kathleen Angell.
“I can only imagine, the tears, shaking, crying and embracing; I know we all feel it on this end,” posted Suzanne Cleary Drews.
It’s not clear if Earnhardt, who was hospitalized after the crash, has had a chance to read any of the comments, which grow by the minute.
Earnhardt thanked fans for their support in an tweet late Monday. “We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog, Gus,” he wrote.
The crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which says video shows the plane bounced twice off the runway, which caused part of its landing gear to collapse. The plane skidded through a fence, into a ditch and came to rest 1,000 feet past the runway, the NTSB said in a press conference Friday.
It then started to burn, and the fire continued until the jet was completely destroyed, photos show.
Federal officials say they could have a preliminary report on their investigation by the end of the week, using voice recorder data, surveillance video, and interviews with Earnhardt and the other passengers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a celebrated collector of all manner of NASCAR memorabilia, including a large collection of wrecked race cars. The vehicles are strewn across several acres on his property north of Charlotte, a car graveyard he calls “Dirty Mo Acres.”
The graveyard has more than 75 cars in it, all once driven -- and crashed -- by the sport’s greatest drivers, according to the website It’s A Southern Thing.