by Godwin Kelly
Anyone who knows Richard Childress will tell you the NASCAR car owner is what they call in the motorsports business a “racer’s racer,” which is one of the highest compliments you can give somebody in any garage area.
Childress lives, works, plays and thrives in one of the toughest racing series in the world. He started out as a struggling, independent race car driver five decades ago. Today he owns one of NASCAR’s elite race operations – Richard Childress Racing – which features three Sprint Cup Series teams.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, who built wealth outside of racing, Childress has focused all his energy on motorsports operations, which suffered a tremendous setback with the loss of seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt in 2001.
The two men teamed in 1984 and quickly became major league stock-car racing’s Dynamic Duo. From 1984 to 2000 they won 67 races, including Earnhardt’s celebrated 1998 Daytona 500 victory, and six Cup Series championships, the last in 1994.
“You never know when that chemistry's going to happen,” said car owner Rick Hendrick. “You get on a roll, they get confident. I give Richard a lot of credit. This is a tough sport. But I think every now and then you get a combination of people that really click.”
Hendrick Motorsports found that same chemistry with a young and gifted driver from California named Jeff Gordon, who emerged on the scene in 1993. Hendrick finally found a driver who could battle Earnhardt. It was their on-track battles that helped spark NASCAR’s popularity to new heights. Gordon snatched the torch from Earnhardt, and Childress has spent the last two decades working to get it back. RCR has come close oh so many times.
“We've been after it for 20 years,” Childress said. “You know, we've been runner up, we've been in the hunt for the last two or three years off and on. In 2000 we missed it by a few points. We've been in there several years with the opportunity to win it, but never pulled it off.”
After losing Earnhardt in 2001, Childress thought about leaving the sport, but instead, he doubled down and created a massive facility in Welcome, N.C., capable of building purpose-built race cars from the wheels up. The shop that created the No. 3 Chevrolets raced by Earnhardt has become a beloved and well-attended museum on the Childress campus.
Today, RCR boasts full-time Sprint Cup Series teams for Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, and fields Xfinity cars for Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughn and Brandon Jones.
Austin Dillon, who brought the No. 3 back to Cup Racing, captured the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2011 and Xfinity Series title in 2013. The Dillon brothers are Childress’ grandsons and represent not only the present but future of the team.
“They have a drive to win,” Childress said. “But what makes me as proud of Austin and Ty both is they're good young men. They understand the value of this sport. The respect that they have for the sport and for what it has created for them and our family; they have a great appreciation for it.”
A respect instilled by their grandfather, who to this day, wakes up every morning and goes to bed each night with racing on his mind.
Godwin Kelly has been Motorsports Editor at the Daytona Beach News-Journal since 1982 and won several major writing awards. He’s authored a half-dozen books on racing including a biography on NASCAR’s first breakout star, Fireball Roberts, and the critically acclaimed “Man-Made Thunder,” which traced NASCAR from its roots to present-day popularity.