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No.3 returns to Daytona 500

2014-02-21 11:14

NO.3 IS BACK: Austin Dillon, 23-year-old grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt's car owner Richard Childress, will start the 2014 Daytona 500 with No.3 on his car, just like the man known as 'The Intimidator'. Image: AFP


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida  - Seven-times Nascar champion Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the Daytona International Speedway 13 years ago and since then no car in the Daytona 500 has carried the famed 'No.3' that identified the sport's superhero.

Now another driver who could be said to be "in the family" has inherited the number. He's Austin Dillon, 23-year old grandson of Richard Childress, the man who owned the car driven by Dale 'The Intimidator' Earnhardt.

Read how CNN Sports Illustrated reported the 2001 crash...

On Sunday (Feb 23) Dillon will start the Daytona 500, on pole, in a Chevrolet No.3 in the same type font as used Earnhardt.


Dillon was happy to talk about handling the pressure of following Earnhardt; after all, he'd just posted the top qualifying speed of 315km/h: "I just tried to keep my focus on qualifying the car," he explained. "You want to perform with the No.3, and everybody wants to see it perform, and that's why my grandfather is always concerned. You want to go out there and run well."

...and watch the crash that killed him

Other famous Nascar drivers drove with No.3 before Earnhardt but the car number took on almost religious significance for the legions of Earnhardt fans who held up three fingers on lap three at many Nascar races after his death.

A former Daytona 500 winner, Ryan Newman, said: "Our sport is entirely different to others with respect to numbers because there are only 43 drivers, let's say, that really compete.

"That number was Dale's number. That number was also Ricky Rudd's number and Richard Childress's (as a driver) number. Just so happens Dale Earnhardt made it the most famous."


Unlike some other professional sports, car numbers are never retired. Nascar liceses the numbers to the car's owner, which is how Childress has maintained a lock on No.3. He was concerned about a possible backlash from Earnhardt fans since Dillon's qualifying run was the first time the number had been used in a top-level Nascar event since 'The Intimidator' was killed on the last lap of the 2001 race.

Childress said in a TV documentary about the return of No.3: "You're not going to have everyone support it to start with. Our goal is to win them over and let them (the fans) understand what we're doing is for the legacy of Dale Earnhardt... that this is going to be a positive for their hero."

Martha Earnhardt, the late Earnhardt's mother, is yet to be won over. She said: "I have mixed feelings because I was told that I would never see a No. 3 on the race track after Dale died. I can understand it, to a point... I know it was Richard's (Childress) number when he drove and this is his grandson, can sort of deal with it, but I don't want to see the black No.3 just like Dale's."


Earlier in 2014 Childress told reporters: "That decision was actually made 14 years ago, when Dale and I were talking about his retirement, what he wanted to do when he retired, how he wanted to help me with the 'No.3' and the team to go out and put a driver in it that could go out and win championships."

Childress said it was understood he would wait for the right person: "Yeah, if Dale Jnr had wanted to do it, or (daughter) Kelley Earnhardt, or Kerry or now Jeffrey, whoever - it would be an Earnhardt or one of my family who would get in that 'No.3' car.

"That decision was made 14 years ago, as Dale and I sat in an old car there in the rain one day, talking about his retirement."

Dale Jnr, Nascar's most popular driver, thinks putting Dillon in his father's No.3 is a good idea. He said in a documentary: "It's going to come back... and this is a great time to do it. Austin is going to do a good job on the track and run well.

"I think people will get more and more comfortable with it. The ones who aren't... I think they are the minority. It will be special for all of us, I'm sure."
Read more on:    nascar  |  motorsport

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