CHARLOTTE — Over thousands of backstretches and hundreds of checkered flags, David Poole made himself into more than one of the nation's leading authorities on NASCAR. He became a part of the sport he loved.
"David Poole was as much a fixture in this sport as the actual cars themselves," driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday. "He was a one-of-a-kind individual and an extremely talented writer."
Poole, who covered racing for the Charlotte Observer, died of a heart attack Tuesday at his Stanly County home. He was 50.
A Gastonia native, Poole became the Observer's NASCAR writer in 1997.
He built a national following through the Web site www.thats racin.com and a daily program he hosted on Sirius NASCAR Radio.
The National Motorsports Press Association four times chose him its writer of the year. He wrote about the sport with the enthusiasm of a fan and the critical eye of a journalist.
"He could be controversial from time to time, but he always wrote and spoke what he believed," said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. "He didn't pull any punches with anybody, and that's what people respected about him. He was good for the sport."
To honor Poole, Sirius plans to broadcast a tribute this morning. NASCAR plans a moment of silence before Saturday's race at Richmond, Va.
"He was truly one of the nation's best, and he always wrote what he believed," said Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. "Whether you agreed with him or not, he made us all think, and that's what the best writers do.
"He cared about what he did and had a passion for his work. It came through in what he wrote every day."
Poole graduated from journalism school at North Carolina in 1981. He took a job at the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Va., but was there just two months when he got a call from the Gastonia Gazette, where he eventually became sports editor. In 1989, he left for a newspaper in Palm Beach, Fla., but he returned a year later for a job at the Charlotte Observer in part to be closer to his family.
After taking over the motorsports beat from Tom Higgins a few years later, it didn't take him long to make his mark.
"I'd go in restaurants in Mooresville and people would say, 'Did you read what Poole wrote today?' " Higgins said. "And I'd say that's the first thing I read."
The racing community came together Tuesday to pay tribute to a writer they saw as one of their own.
"Without driving a car or turning a wrench, David Poole was a racer," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "He will be sincerely missed."
Survivors include wife Katy, children Matthew Smarr, David Mack, Emily Mack, grandson Eli and sister Gina Houk and husband Wayne.
The family will receive friends today from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at McClean Funeral Home, 700 South New Hope Road, Gastonia.
Services are Thursday at 1 p.m. at Parkwood Baptist Church, 1827 Dixon Road, Gastonia.
(Staff writer Jim Utter contributed to this report.)
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