Hall of Famer Richard Childress and Talladega Superspeedway will celebrate their 50th Anniversary together in a special way prior to the start of the Oct. 13 1000Bulbs.com 500. Childress, who began his career in NASCAR’s premier series in 1969 at the track’s grand-opening weekend, will commemorate their long history by leading the field on track after engines are fired, in the authentic black No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo car that carried Dale Earnhardt to his miraculous and final career victory in October of 2000.
In one of the most exciting races ever in the history of motorsports, Earnhardt and the famous black No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing (RCR) came from 18th to first in just four laps to take the lead at the white flag and go on to capture his record 10th Talladega triumph, and his monumental, final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career win. The car has been on display for years at the popular RCR Museum in Welcome, NC, 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 while at the track where he 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 would finish 17th in the track’s actual initial-ever race – a NASCAR Grand Touring preliminary event, 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 (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 NASCAR premier series race before an axle broke and 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 with 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. And, 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, as well as 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 (July 2018) of this Transformation project, and I knew what was coming. It’s almost a reality!”
The Talladega Garage Experience is the center of the $50 million Transformation endeavor that will stretch from the Tri-Oval down near the start-finish line. In addition to Gatorade Victory Lane, it will feature a host of activities and destinations, including more than 140,000 square feet of social and engagement areas and the Open Air Social Club, where fans will be just a few steps away and “up-close” from the fan viewing walkway (under the same roof where the race cars are being prepped by the race teams).
For every fan who purchases a Talladega Garage Experience admission, they will receive FREE Wi-Fi and be treated to $4 or less Value-Priced Concessions. Other amenities inside the Experience include a Kids Zone, Watch Zone, the Clyde May’s Courtyard, Iron Alley which will feature historic race cars, new restrooms, concession and souvenir stands, as well as a new Guest Services center.
The Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes. DLR Group is the architect of the entire project while Hoar Construction (Birmingham, AL) continues to spearhead Phase II. GT Grandstands (Plant City, FL) is constructing the Race Operations tower, which, too, continues to see progression high above the Tri-Oval, as well as the Pit Road Club Suites.
Fans can learn more about the project and view the progress 24/7 via the construction cam by visiting www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/transformation. For ticket information on the track’s NASCAR doubleheader playoffs weekend, which also includes the Sugarlands Shine 250 (NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series) on Saturday, Oct. 12, and all things on Transformation and the Talladega Garage Experience, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.