HAMPTON, Ga. -- The sound of screaming engines echoed through the dogwood blossoms Tuesday. The garage area smelled like scorched brake pads and raw octane.
The routine was mundane, but refreshing: three laps and adjust the car, three more laps and even more adjustments. Several race teams utilized a test session at Atlanta Motor Speedway to fine-tune their cars and to emotionally get back on the fast track.
The sting of Dale Earnhardt's death has, at long last, become a dull pain. Race teams that struggled to focus on last week's Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway now are back in their regimens of turning wrenches and hammering sheet metal with the same playful excitement that has been, and always will be, a quotidian part of the racing experience.
It might take months for the sport to get back up to speed. But at least for the first time since Earnhardt died suddenly on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, it is headed in the right direction. And that means running in counter-clockwise circles.
''We all wanted to get back to the race track and get back to racing to try to ease our minds,'' said Steve Park, one of Earnhardt's drivers, who won last Monday's rain-delayed race. ''The busier you are, the less you think about what's transpired.
''For me, a lot of the healing process was just getting back to the race track and back to seeing your friends and sharing some cool stories of experiences we've all had with Dale.
''It's all part of the healing process that we all have to go through.''
There wasn't anything the sport could have done to lessen the grief created by Earnhardt's death, but Park's tearful victory came close. Park drives for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and his victory gave DEI two wins in two starts, counting Michael Waltrip's victory at the Daytona 500.
Now the sport can dry its collective tears and move to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Sun day's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 with one thing in mind racing.
''The victory at Rockingham (Monday), that was a storybook finish for us,'' crew chief Paul Andrews said. ''It was really a big, emotional weekend for us. We turned a lot of frowns into smiles on Monday. Even here at the shop, the atmosphere has been tremendous.''
Drivers in Atlanta are looking for more than speed. They are look ing for closure and peace of mind.
''The thing is, when Teresa went to bed that night, Dale wasn't there,'' Jimmy Spencer said of Earnhardt's wife. ''And he won't be there ever again. There are four children who won't ever see their father again. To me, that's the real tragedy.
''We're going to miss Dale around here, but he would be the first to say the show must go on. Getting back to work is the best thing we could do. It's the best way we know how to deal with it.''
The music didn't stop when Elvis died. Baseball kept going long after Babe Ruth was gone. Earnhardt's death won't stop the show, either.
''We're family, so it's nice to get together and get back to racing,'' Jeff Gordon said. ''Dale Earnhardt cannot be replaced. This sport will go on and continue to be successful.''
In victory, Park turned tears of sorrow into tears of joy. He knew that's exactly what the boss would have demanded.
''We were so excited to be able to win that race for Dale Earn hardt Inc. and start the healing process that we've all been longing for,'' he said. ''Hopefully, winning that race lifted the spirits here (at the track) and at the shop.''
REACH Don Coble at email@example.com.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.