NASCAR drivers become associated with a number much like athletes in other sports. However, unlike baseball, football, or other stick and ball sports, NASCAR competitors’ numbers are on their cars, not a uniform. The number 43 with Richard”‘The King” Petty, the number 24 with Jeff Gordon, and of course the number 3 with the late Dale Earnhardt. Shortly after his death, in a racing accident during the running of the Daytona 500, many of his long time fans called for his car number to be retired, something that had never been done in this sport. While Richard Childress, the actual owner of the number 3, has chosen to not use it in Sprint Cup competition since, it looks as if it will soon be making it’s return.
Dale Earnhardt fans were, and still are to this day, the most loyal of any in the sport of NASCAR. They continue to wear t-shirts bearing his image when attending the races. They continue to buy his collectibles, as evidenced by the fact that many times there are still several souvenir trailers with the late driver’s colors still doing a brisk business at NASCAR Sprint Cup events throughout the country. They also have very strong feelings about the number 3.
Many still feel the number should never be run in Sprint Cup competition again. However, Richard Childress, has chosen to associate that number with his grandchildren, Ty and Austin Dillon, as they progress in their NASCAR careers. Both have run it in the Camping World Truck Series, and Austin competed in a black and white number 3 Chevrolet this past season in Nationwide competition.
It was Austin, during an interview and one-on-one with fans session at Len Sammons Motorsports 2013 who as much as confirmed NASCAR fans should expect to see the number 3 back in Sprint Cup competition in 2014, with him behind the wheel.
When asked if we would ever see the 3 back at the highest level of the sport, the cowboy hat wearing, older of the two Dillon brothers said, “We have been discussing the possibility for awhile now. Listening to what the fans have had to say, and we feel the time is near. Coordinate it with my rise to Sprint Cup in 2014.”
While there will certainly be those Earnhardt fans who continue to feel the number 3 should never be raced by anyone other than the “Intimidator”, the approach Childress has taken, and the success of Austin in his racing efforts have certainly allowed what was once a firm stance to soften. By running the number in lower levels of NASCAR, he has eased the idea into the minds of fans, rather than springing it on them all at once. Ty has also done his part by running well, and winning races. Earnhardt fans would certainly not support the return of the number if it was driven by someone they thought couldn’t return it to it’s previous glory.
If all goes as planned there should be a black and white number 3 Chevrolet on the starting grid of the 2014 Daytona 500. The emotions will be high, and the expectations even higher. Dale Earnhardt wouldn’t want it any other way.