Richard Childress

Austin Dillon in the No. 3: A successor to, not a replacement for Dale Earnhardt

4 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The late Dale Earnhardt wrote the book on driving the No. 3.

Austin Dillon begins writing the sequel in Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.

For 13 years, NASCAR fans vigorously debated the merits of the No. 3. Loyal Earnhardt fans felt his memory and legacy would best be remembered by never racing that number again, an everlasting memorial to what Earnhardt meant to them and the sport.

Others felt that if the No. 43 of NASCAR’s winningest driver, Richard Petty, wasn’t retired, than the No. 3 shouldn’t be either. To them, it was just a number.

As Dillon began his racing career in his teens, the No. 3 was the number he chose to adorn the side of every vehicle he would race across several different racing series, from go-karts to legend cars to the K&N Pro Series East, and ultimately to winning championships in the Camping World Trucks Series and the Nationwide Series.

Not only was it an homage to Earnhardt, it was also an homage to his grandfather, Richard Childress. Dillon saw the sadness and grief the man he called “Pop Pop” went through for days, weeks and years after Earnhardt died in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Grief is supposed to lessen in time, but Childress was so close to Earnhardt that even 10 years later, during the 2011 NASCAR Media Tour, RC still broke up emotionally when asked about The Intimidator.

Earnhardt was more than just a driver or employee to Childress. He was more than a guy who won six of his seven Sprint Cup championships while racing under the RCR banner.

Rather, Earnhardt was kin to Childress, even if there wasn’t a direct blood connection. The two men raced, hunted, fished, hung out … hell, call them what they were: best friends through and through.

When Earnhardt died, a bit of Childress died. Scratch that – a lot of Childress died. It was as if he lost the combination of a brother and son. There was even a point early on after Earnhardt died that Childress questioned whether he should continue in racing.

Austin, Richard’s first grandchild, had a front-row seat to what his Pop Pop went through. Perhaps he was just being an impressionable kid, but Dillon wanted to do whatever he could to help Childress get over his grief, to rekindle his love and excitement of the sport, to bring back that famous Childress smile.

Dillon chose the one thing that he hoped could reignite and reinvigorate Childress’ spirit – not to mention continue the next generation of what has become a family business.

Namely, racing.

Dillon was a gifted prep athlete in a variety of other sports who probably could have played any sport he wanted in college. Maybe even make it to the pros.

But he chose to become a racer.

And now, seven years after he first climbed into a K&N car, Dillon is at the pinnacle of what he’s dreamed about for most of his 23 years:

To race in NASCAR’s premier series for his grandfather.

You couldn’t write a better script: Dillon isn’t just bringing back the No. 3 for the first time in 13 years, he’ll lead the pack to the green flag for Sunday’s Great American Race as its pole sitter.

The Earnhardt legacy will essentially come full-circle when the race starts. It’s likely that most of the sell-out crowd at Daytona International Speedway will not only applaud Dillon when he crosses the start-finish line to start the race, they’ll also likely stand and hold up three fingers at the third lap unfolds as a tribute to Earnhardt – hopefully with Dillon still in the lead.

It’ll be the final passing of the torch, the changing of the guard.

Whether you’re a fan of the No. 3 coming back or not, Dillon has gone to great pain and effort to honor Earnhardt’s memory in the best way possible, while at the same time very subtly making folks aware there’s a new driver in the legendary numbered car.

There’s been no pomposity on Dillon’s part that the No. 3 is now “his” number.

“I’m not a kid that says, ‘Hey, this is what I want, this is what I’m going to get,'” Dillon said. “I’ve never been that way. Hopefully I’m never portrayed that way.”

There’s been no attempt by Dillon to say he’s going to fill Earnhardt’s shoes.

And there’s been absolutely no reference whatsoever that Dillon will ever be as good as Earnhardt.

Dillon has quickly become known in the NASCAR world as a young man who is very respectful to everyone he comes into contact with. He welcomes contact with fans, constantly says “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am,” and is about as sincere as they come.

He obviously was raised right by his mother and father, and of course, his Pop Pop.

“I’m a very respectful person and look to the history of the sport,” Dillon said with significant humility. “I feel fortunate I’m getting this opportunity.”

Dillon and his grandfather both know they’re going out on a big limb by not only bringing the No. 3 back, but also having Austin drive what so many consider “Dale’s car.” It would likely have been much simpler to come into the Sprint Cup series with another number.

Dillon knows that there will likely be more eyes upon him – especially in Sunday’s race – than on any other driver since Earhardt died.

He also knows that he wants to win lots of races and championships over the next 20-plus years. He never has been or ever will be Earnhardt, but you can’t fault Dillon if he wants to aspire to be the kind of driver The Intimidator was.

So for those of you who feel it’s sacrilegious that Dillon is going to be racing “Dale’s number,” consider this: other than one of Earnhardt’s own children or grandchildren, would you rather see Dillon in the No. 3, someone who was essentially part of Earnhardt’s extended family, or would you rather see someone who has no clue what that number and Earnhardt’s legacy means?

“I feel like hopefully we can win them over as time goes on,” Dillon said. “That’s all you can do.

“The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever. Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself.

“… We’re trying to continue the legacy of the No. 3.  I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

PWC: Andrew Palmer, Jorge de la Torre remain hospitalized in Hartford

WC
Leave a comment

Pirelli World Challenge released an updated statement late Tuesday night on the status of injured drivers Andrew Palmer and Jorge de la Torre, who were both injured in a severe accident in practice on Saturday morning ahead of that series’ race at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn.

No conditions were revealed in the statement.

The statement reads:

“As a follow up to the releases regarding the GT warm-up accident in Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge race at Lime Rock Park, the Series wants to thank our teams, drivers and fans for the tremendous outpouring of support for Andrew Palmer and Jorge De La Torre.

“Both drivers continue to receive treatment for their injuries at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.  Hartford Hospital has not released further information at this time. The Series will forward any detailed update on the drivers when received from a Hartford Hospital spokesperson. We thank everyone for respecting the families right to privacy as they concentrate on Andrew and Jorge’s hospitalization.”

Bryan Clauson pulls off ‘Hoosier Double’ — Indy 500 and sprint car win in same day

Bryan Clauson prior to the start of Sunday's Indianapolis 500. He'd then go on to race again that evening in a sprint car race at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway -- and won!
(Getty Images)
Leave a comment

When Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 was over, most drivers went out to dinner, attended Conor Daly’s post-race party – or just plain chilled out and relaxed.

But not Bryan Clauson.

Clauson put together his own version of “the double” Sunday, starting his day at Indy and finishing it not 600 miles away for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 – but rather with an evening sprint car race about 60 miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

 

It was indeed a heck of a day and evening for Clauson.

First, he led the 500 for the first time in three career starts there, having the 32 other drivers in the field chasing him for three laps.

Next, Clauson finally finished his first 500 in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, amassing 198 laps in the 200-lap event. That was a significant improvement than his first two starts in 2012 (completed just 46 laps) and 2015 (completed 61 laps).

Running 500 miles at Indy didn’t leave Clauson too worse for the wear: he went out and won just a few hours later that evening at Kokomo!

As he was leaving IMS, Clauson, a native of Noblesville, Indiana – about halfway between Indy and Kokomo – stopped quick enough to tweet out his reaction to his finish at Indy.

And then with that, the 26-year-old Clauson was back on the road up to Kokomo Speedway.

Racing at Indy and Kokomo was just a warm-up act for Clauson, who is kicking off a stint of 40 races in 34 days, as part of Clauson and Byrd Racing’s “Chasing 200” tour.

Of course he and fiancee Lauren also had a banquet to attend on Monday night.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi visits NASCAR AMERICA (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

As part of his New York City media tour on Tuesday, Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi visited NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA show.

Rossi spoke with Carolyn Manno, and discusses winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, his choice of milk after winning and his Formula 1 past before shifting to IndyCar and driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

Rossi’s NAPA Auto Parts primary sponsorship will continue into next weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, Rounds 7 and 8 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The IndyCar circuit returns to NBCSN on June 11, at 8 p.m. ET, from Texas Motor Speedway.

Despite rough finish, Conor Daly finds humor in 2016 Indianapolis 500 experience

16C_8063-1
(Photo: Chris Owens)
Leave a comment

Conor Daly may have been disappointed in his 29th place finish in Sunday’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

But you couldn’t tell by the 24-year-old Noblesville, Indiana native’s comments at Monday’s Indy 500 Victory Banquet.

Daly started his acceptance speech to receive the $336,243 he earned for being in the 500 by discussing his wardrobe – or lack thereof.

“This is my first purchased suit,” he said with a smirk. “I bought this with my own money. It’s a big achievement in my life.”

That comment drew applause and laughs.

Daly touched on the crash with Mikhail Aleshin shortly after the mid-point of the race that ended the day for both drivers, not blaming the Russian driver, then went into a routine that featured several funny one-liners, including:

* “I’d like to thank Christopher Columbus for coming over and discovering this great place.”

* “And I’d like to thank George Washington for establishing this wonderful country. And all of our veterans and just the great American country, because it’s awesome.”

Daly then talked about how he decided to mosey out to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legendary “Snake Pit” in the Turn 3 and Turn 4 portion of the infield.

Just before the race, too!

“I had never been to the snake pit before so I went out there before the race, oddly enough,” Daly said. “I carved out a 30-minute window to do some promotional activities and I wore my helmet and my race suit, safety first. That was awesome. I probably won’t be able to see it ever hopefully for a long time because I’ll be driving (in the race).”

And as for his close friend Rossi, Daly said, “Mr. Rossi, good job, my friend. You get a car and money and all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah, it’s awesome, so good job, buddy.”

When asked about his close friendship with Rossi when they raced against each other in the GP2 series, Daly noted: “We shared many a meal in the GP2 hospitality of dried meats and cucumbers and whatever the heck they had there that I thought were ridiculous.

“We talked many a times about where we were going to go in our careers. Sure enough, here we are, he’s an Indy 500 champion and I’m attempting to do something with my life. So, we’re getting there.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski