TALLADEGA, Ala. – NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress and Talladega Superspeedway will celebrate their 50th anniversary together in a special way before the start of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 on Oct. 13.
Childress, who began his career in NASCAR’s premier series in 1969 during the track’s grand-opening weekend, will commemorate their long history by leading the field on track after engines are fired in a very special vehicle.
The veteran team owner will pace the field in the same black No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that carried Dale Earnhardt to his final NASCAR Cup Series win in October of 2000.
In one of the most exciting races in NASCAR history, Earnhardt and the famous black No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing came from 18th to first in just four laps to take the lead at the white flag. Earnhardt went on to capture his record 10th Talladega triumph, and his 76th and final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career win.
The car has been on display for years at the RCR Museum in Welcome, N.C., but now has a new temporary home.
“That car hasn’t been out of our museum since we put in there in 2001, so this will be the first time it has been on a race track since that day in 2000 when Dale won,” said Childress Wednesday at the track where he both started his career as a driver and has 12 victories as a team owner, nine of which that came with Earnhardt. “We took it down and put it on the race shop floor, and we have gotten it all fixed. Got the engine running. It’s the same engine that he had in the car that day.
“It’s the exact car just like it was that day when it left the winner’s circle. We did paint it and take the marks off of it. … I wish we hadn’t now, but that’s going to be the coolest thing. It gives me cold chills just thinking about it. I asked my guys could I run it 200 mph,” joked Childress. “Dale is a part of the history of this place. He loved Talladega because it was so wide, you could move around, and I’ve seen him do things here with a race car that you don’t even think about … fitting in some of the holes, and if there wasn’t room, he would kind of make a hole.”
The late Earnhardt, known as “The Intimidator,” was joyous that fall day, saying of the miraculous finish, “It was wild. I didn’t have any thought I would have a chance at winning this race where I started at on the restart. It was a chess game of getting there and staying there. It just worked out for us to be there at the right time.”
For Childress, Talladega has extra meaning.
Driving a ’68 No. 13 Chevrolet Camaro, he finished 17th in the track’s initial race – a NASCAR Grand Touring preliminary event held the day before the first Talladega 500.
But, a host of the top drivers decided to boycott the 500 because of what they thought were tire safety concerns with the nearly 200 mph high speeds.
“After that (Saturday) race, Bill France (then-president of NASCAR and founder of Talladega Superspeedway) stood up on one of the work benches down there and he says, ‘I want you guys to race for me tomorrow. See these other guys. We’ve seen them pull out and leave,’” said Childress, a Winston-Salem, NC native.
“So that was our opportunity to make some extra money. We worked that night real late to prepare our cars to race the next day. I had made three or four thousand dollars on a Saturday. The money that he paid us to run Sunday – we called it deal money in those days – plus my winnings I came back with seven, eight, 10 thousand dollars. In those days it was big money.”
He used the money to purchase a piece of land and opened a garage. It grew into RCR.
Childress made it 80 laps in that inaugural Talladega Cup Series race before an axle broke. He finished 23rd behind winner Richard Brickhouse. A year later, he competed again in a Grand American race at Talladega, this time in a No. 26 Camaro, and wound up 14th.
Over his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career as a driver, Childress competed at Talladega 19 times, with five top-10 results and a best of sixth in 1980.
Just over a year later, he decided to get out from behind the wheel and turn the driving duties over to a younger driver – some guy named Earnhardt. The rest is history.
While at Talladega, Childress toured the incredible construction on the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar and the all-new Talladega Garage Experience, which is nearing completion. He got an “up-close” look at the new “old school” Gatorade Victory Lane,” the 35,000 square foot Open Air Social Club, and assisted the landscaping efforts by dumping soil into a flower bed with a Caterpillar front end loader.
“Just unbelievable what they are doing here,” said Childress of the construction. “This has always been the most fan-friendly track that there is, and now to add all of these fan amenities, it’s going to be something else.
“I was here for the initial announcement of this Transformation project in July of 2018, and I knew what was coming. Now, it’s almost a reality!”