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Friends, Family Gather To Say Goodbye To Dale Earnhardt

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CHARLOTTE — Family, friends and NASCAR colleagues gathered Thursday in Charlotte to remember Dale Earnhardt.

Thousands filled the cavernous Calvary Church for the noontime service, which lasted about 30 minutes.

Drivers Sterling Marlin, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Jerry Nadeau, and Bobby and Donnie Allison; raceway executives Bruton Smith and Eddie Gossage; and members of the Earnhardt team, wearing black shirts with the shop logo on the pocket, filed into the church.

They were joined by legendary driver Junior Johnson, who raced against Earnhardt's father, Ralph, and met the NASCAR star as a child.

"NASCAR will know that Earnhardt ain't in that race in Rockingham and it will hurt for a little while," Johnson said. "It'll get by, but it's going to hurt. It's a sad day for NASCAR and the sport."

The 49-year-old driver was buried Wednesday at a small, private service in Kannapolis. The Earnhardt family invited a few friends to the service at a small church where they regularly attend services. Fans Watch Memorial Service On TelevisionSome people said goodbye to Earnhardt by watching the service on television.

During the lunch hour, civilian employees and soldiers at Fort Bragg gathered at Sports USA on post to watch the memorial service.

"I wanted to be here and to watch the last moments and highlights of what he's done and accomplished," says fan Sean Jacoby.

"I feel like the loss is like the loss people felt with Princess Diana. I never met Dale Earnhardt, but Dale Earnhardt was NASCAR," says fan Robert Phillips.

Some of Earnhardt's biggest fans work in some of the Triangle's biggest car dealerships.

Sir Walter Chervrolet set up a big screen for employees and customers to watch Thursday's service. About 30 people sat in silence during the two-hour program.

A few have met Earnhardt and appreciated the chance to say their own goodbyes.

"Everyone being here to be together for this means so much, and it helps inside," says service director Ricky Edwards. Earnhardt Car Will Race SundayEarnhardt's team at Richard Childress Racing (RCR) was planning to enter his car in Sunday's Dura-Lube 400 at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.

Ken Harvick, a 25-year-old Busch Grand National driver for RCR, will take over Earnhardt's car for the rest of the season, a team source told the Associated Press. The source said Harvick would drive the Chevrolet and use Earnhardt's crew and crew chief.

The car will not use Earnhardt's No. 3 or his trademark black-and-sliver paint scheme. Details of the new number and color scheme for Harvick are still being worked out, according to the source. Minister Speaks About Earnhardt's Last Words to HimThe minister who prayed with Earnhardt just before the Daytona 500 spoke about the driver's last words to him.

The Rev. Max Helton stood at the side of Earnhardt's car and led a prayer, as he had done on most race day Sundays for the past 13 years.

"We held hands through his window," Helton said. "He says, 'Just pray that I'll be wise in putting the car at the right place at the right time ... and be able to drive with wisdom.' And we did pray about that. And we did pray for safety.'" From staff and wire reports

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Brian Shrader, Web Editor

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