For more than 40 years, Richard Childress has enjoyed a prominent place within NASCAR as a driver and team owner. Through the talents and services of numerous drivers, crew members and company personnel, Richard Childress Racing is credited with 220 victories.
Twelve championships across NASCAR’s top divisions have come to the Welcome, N.C., based operation with drivers Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Mike Skinner and Austin Dillon.
Childress’ incredible story of success is quite amazing considering his very humble beginnings.
His introduction to NASCAR came through a part-time job as a concession worker at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
As a teenager, he sold peanuts and soft drinks in the stands of the small quarter-mile track on Saturday nights during the late 1950s.
“Counting a couple of different places we lived, I walked about eight miles to get to the track,” Childress said. “The first night I went over there I watched the drivers and all of the enthusiasm of the crowd. One of the things I wanted to do was become a race driver. I would go over to the garage early and I met a lot of the drivers and crew chiefs and just hung out with them.
“When they were lining up the cars, I would sell like crazy. When no one was buying anything, I would stand there and watch what was going on on the track.”
By the mid-1960s, Childress had moved from selling peanuts to racing a 1947 Plymouth he bought for $20. He worked his way up to the track’s modified division and later raced them on dirt at other tracks in North Carolina and Virginia.
Childress sold his short-track car and some equipment and joined NASCAR’s Grand American division in 1969. That year, he logged top-10 finishes at Daytona Int’l Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
“I bought an old 1969 Camaro and entered the Daytona Citrus 250 in February of that year,” Childress said. “I qualified right up there with Lloyd Ruby and Parnelli Jones. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but we ended up finishing eighth.”
Childress achieved his goal of becoming a Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) driver in 1971, steering Chevrolets owned by Tom Garn. In 1976, Childress entered his own Chevrolets out of a small shop on the outskirts of Winston-Salem. Through 21 events in 1981, he amassed 76 top-10 finishes in 285 starts. Even though no wins were recorded, top team owners took notice of his many solid finishes that came without major funding. He finished fifth, ninth and eight in Cup points in 1975, ’77 and ’79, respectively.
The top cars during the late 1970s included the Chevrolets of Junior Johnson, the Dodges of Petty Enterprises, team owner Nord Krauskopf’s Dodges, Bud Moore’s Fords and the Wood Brothers’ Mercurys. It was Johnson who helped keep Childress’ modestly financed team afloat through used engines, parts and tires.
“I had a lot of DNFs from engine failures, but I didn’t tear up a lot and was very fortunate,” Childress recalled. “I knew I had to finish high enough in the points to run it as a business that could support my family. That was the No. 1 priority for me. The second biggest priority was to go out and have fun. I always remembered how much fun the guys at Bowman Gray had and they were the kind of guys I wanted to be like.”
H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, a former Firestone Tire Co. representative and longtime president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, respected Childress as a driver. He remembers feeling he would be even more successful as a team owner.
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