Poole's family and friends gather - by the hundreds

They held David Poole's funeral Thursday afternoon, and many of us who loved him and argued with him and frustrated him and admired him showed up.

We gathered at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, N.C., to remember Poole – hundreds of us, from all the corners of Poole's varied life. There was Poole's family. Many of his colleagues from The Charlotte Observer. NASCAR drivers and officials. Former subjects of Poole's stories. Golf buddies. Friends from his church. Competitors from the NASCAR media beat, where Poole was not just a star, but his own constellation.

Poole would have liked his funeral's crispness. He liked events that ran on time, included some good stories and then ended without dragging on for days. In a racing pressbox, when a singer stretched notes from the national anthem beyond all reason, Poole would be growling right after "the home of the brave" about how his deadline just took another hit.

There were funny stories about Poole. There were touching ones about how he had found his calling in life before dying Tuesday, at age 50, of a heart attack.

The Rev. John Bridges said that before Poole ever started elementary school in Gastonia that he used to go to the local barbershop, grab the sports magazines and read them aloud to the men having their hair cut. Many years later, Poole's own published stories would be barbershop fodder.

Poole's love for his wife Katy, his family, his job and his Gastonia roots were all well-remembered.

Poole favored a restaurant in Gastonia called R.O.'s Barbecue. His last meal, Bridges said, was slaw from R.O.'s spread on top of Saltine crackers.

"Poole never forgot where he came from," Bridges said.

Poole was blunt, generous, cranky, brainy and, always, a man of the people. He was so well-known in NASCAR circles that in some ways he was like "Norm" on the old TV show "Cheers." Everybody knew his name.

But Poole wasn't cuddly like Norm. He could be prickly, especially when he felt that NASCAR's head honchos or The Observer's head honchos or the U.S. government's head honchos had done something wrong and were a) covering it up or b) dismissing it as unimportant. Then he would start ranting, and to hear Poole in full rant was a delicious treat, as his radio listeners well knew.

Poole loved his family and sported a fine sense of humor. But he took his job very seriously. He always asked the tough questions he thought racing fans wanted answered and made sure not to mindlessly paint NASCAR in the glowing brushstrokes it prefers.

"David Poole was as much a fixture in this sport as the actual cars themselves," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said a few hours after Poole's death, and that summed it up about as well as anyone could.

At Thursday's funeral, Bridges quoted from one of the books Poole wrote in which he prominently quoted former racer Buddy Baker: "You cannot live your life in fear of what might happen next."

Said the reverend: "I don’t think David Poole ever feared what happened next."

They didn't play any music by the Eagles at Poole's funeral, but they could have. Poole was a huge fan of the group. He would argue the Eagles' place in rock history with anyone who dared to doubt their greatness.

The Eagles' Don Henley and Glenn Frey once co-wrote "Desperado" and "Tequila Sunrise" in the same week. Poole had stretches of genius like that, too, most frequently in May when two of NASCAR's biggest races are run at Lowe's Motor Speedway in an eight-day stretch.

Every day readers would get up and find their morning newspaper – or click on our Web site, – and every day there would be two or three or four pieces from Poole, by turns sharp and eloquent.

I stood in awe of his production. Poole was a one-man machine of all things racing: Newspapers, Web sites, radio, books. You've heard of NASCAR colossus DEI? Poole was DPI - David Poole Inc.

One of the last long conversations Poole and I had concerned the Eagles just before we both attended the group's concert in Charlotte in January. We were both big admirers of Henley's lyrics. Poole said he hoped the Eagles played "Desperado" as their final encore that night, because, as he said, "there's just nowhere to go from there."

The Eagles did, indeed, end that Charlotte concert with Henley singing "Desperado."

On the way back from Poole's funeral, I listened to the song again. The final verse struck me.

It may be rainin'

But there's a rainbow above you

You better let somebody love you

Before it's too late.

For all his cantankerous bluster, Poole did let somebody love him.

Thousands of us did.

And, God, we miss him.

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