Richard Childress discussed with media his memories of Dale Earnhardt's emotional 1998 Daytona 500 win, details of the Chevy race car, the lucky penny on the dashboard, some history of the Great American Race, and more. AS YOU GUYS PREPARED FOR...
Richard Childress discussed with media his memories of Dale Earnhardt's emotional 1998 Daytona 500 win, details of the Chevy race car, the lucky penny on the dashboard, some history of the Great American Race, and more.
AS YOU GUYS PREPARED FOR THESE RACES, DALE EARNHARDT HAD SO MANY DISAPPOINTMENTS, WHAT WAS THE ATTITUDE COMING TO DAYTONA IN 1998. DID YOU JUST THINK YOU WOULD NEVER WIN IT? "No, it you keep trying long enough, you're going to win. We knew sooner or later the odds had to get in our favor. For 20 times you know, those odds had to come in our favor. We just felt good that day. It was one of those deals that when the caution happened right there at the end and back then you could race back, and he beat them back with one or two (laps) to go there. I looked at (crew chief, Larry) McReynolds and I said, 'We've been here before.' And about that time the caution came out and he was able to beat them back and win the race."
DALE EARNHARDT SR. RACED GUYS HARD BUT WHEN HE FINALLY WON THAT RACE, EVERYBODY WAS THERE TO CONGRATULATE HIM "Well I think everybody wanted to see him win it; even the competitors. You seen what happened on pit road, but afterwards a lot of drivers came by winner's circle, and a lot of them called and congratulated me and him both and it was just really neat to have the competitors respond after a win like that."
WAS THAT RELIEF OR JOY OR A COMBINATION OF BOTH? "Both. It was one of those deals when you had been so close so many times. He'd won everything. We'd won everything you could win. And then to finally be able to put that (Daytona) 500 together, it was just unbelievable."
DID YOU EVER GET THE LUCKY PENNY BACK? "It never left. It's on the dashboard. It's been on the car the whole time. It left the museum with it. That car is in the museum in Welcome (RCR shop in NC) and it has the lucky penny on it. A couple of years ago we brought the little lady who gave Dale the penny to the museum. I took the wheel off and sat her down in the car. It was pretty amazing."
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THIS DISPLAY CAR? "It's going to be on display here at the Speedway (DIS). It's something to show the old and the new and 10 years later to show and celebrate his win. It's 10 years later. We've got plenty of the other cars. We're going to have one of the cars here Sunday for the event next week. But we'll also have this car on display and everybody can see what the old black No. 3 would have looked like in the new Impala SS."
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF DALE EARNHARDT JR. WINNING THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT? "Oh, it was great. It was a great race and a good win. He was true to form. And a little teamwork there, a little push from the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) put him over the edge so it was good."
WHEN YOU SEE ALL THE HENDRICK CARS LINED UP LIKE THAT, DOES THAT GIVE YOU CHILLS ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO FIGHT THIS SEASON? "That's one race. We're all fired up at RCR. We'll have three cars in the 500 and we're not excited about qualifying, but we've got seven days between qualifying and the 500 to get ready for it and I think we'll be right there and be ready for them."
OBVIOUSLY YOU WANT TO WIN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE SPORT FOR DALE JUNIOR TO HAVE SUCCESS? "Like his dad, he was a major role in the sport like Richard Petty was in his day and Junior is the guy today and he's important to the sport. But it's our job to go out and try to beat him and that's what we're going to try to do."
IS IT A CASE WHERE ONE PERSON SHOULDN'T BE SO BIG? IS THAT DANGEROUS FOR THE SPORT? "Not really. You look at Tiger Woods or Arnold Palmer or Mohammad Ali; they helped build sports and carry sports. And I think you've got to have a superstar or a couple of superstars. I think a little bit of what went on the other night (Bud Shootout practice incident between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch) isn't bad for the sport. You've got to have a little controversy thrown in there. You've got to have something to keep the fans excited and say hey, this is my man, you know."
SO WAS THAT LIKE OLD SATURDAY NIGHT RACING? "I thought it was. I kind of enjoyed seeing it a little but. As long as nobody gets hurt; a little scuffing never hurt anybody I don't think."
JUNIOR SEEMED TO SAY AFTER WINNING THE SHOOTOUT THAT IT KIND OF CHANGED THE GAME AND HE WAS GOING TO KEEP HIS DUKES UP A LITTLE BIT "I don't think they (NASCAR) is going to allow it, I just think they're going to be a little bit more open to see where it goes, you know. They're not going to let it get out of hand, and I think they shouldn't. But still yet, this is an intense sport. And when your emotions fly as high as they do, you've got to have drivers that really show their emotions."
BASED ON LAST NIGHT, HOW MUCH DO YOU SEE THIS SPORT GOING BACK TO THE OLD DAYS WITH THIS CAR? "I think it can. I think we've got to tweak on it a little bit more and I think NASCAR will be open-minded about doing any tweaking we've got to do. We've just got to get back to side-by-side racing. That's their goal. That's everybody's goal. And I think this car is a step in the right direction. I think it can put on some great shows. And NASCAR has said they are open to making what changes that need to be made to keep the competition up."
IT LOOKED LIKE THE SLINGSHOT WAS BACK LAST NIGHT "You could do a little more of it. The side draft is a little harder with this car where the air is at on it, but I think you can get a little more of a slingshot. You can get a bigger push."
ON THE LUCKY PENNY "A young lady, before the race, came up to Dale Sr. and gave him a penny. And right before the race he asked one of the guys to bring him some yellow glue, that was the old 3M glue and he glued it on the dash. And that's where it's still at today with the same glue and everything. It could have been a Make A Wish deal. She was in a wheelchair."
DID YOU THINK YOU'D TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE, AND THAT YOU MIGHT AS WELL GO WITH ONE LAST LUCKY CHARM? "I think we had used every lucky charm we could. That one worked that day. To win the race and have the penny there and have a little girl involved was pretty special. It was emotional."
OTHER THAN THAT MOMENT, WHAT OTHER MEMORIES ARE SPECIAL ABOUT DAYTONA 500? "Just going into it that morning and talking about some strategy and things we wanted to try to get done that day to be in a position to win at the end of the day. We knew we had a good car going into it. We knew he could get the job done. It was just if things would play our way and we'd have no cut tires or running out of gas or turning over."
HOW HAS THE DAYTONA 500 CHANGED IN THE 39 YEARS YOU'VE BEEN COMING HERE? "I think seeing the cars. The evolution of the equipment that we're running today has just way surpassed where we were."
ACK THEN, IT WASN'T ANYWHERE NEAR AS BIG AS IT IS TODAY, WAS IT? "No, no. I can remember my first 500 was in '73. I raced here in '69 in the Grand American in the Sportsman races. It was big, but there probably wasn't but 40,000 grandstands around the track at that time and I'm not sure they were all full. There wasn't much at all around here at the time. I think there were some big key moments like the '76 race and the '79 race with Bobby and Donnie and those guys and Petty winning the big race here in July. I think those are the things that helped grow the sport. And then running in February with our Super Bowl every year is probably a plus for us as well. Everybody is looking for something to do in the winter and here we are racing in Florida and putting on a hell of a show."
WHAT DO YOU THINK DALE EARNHARDT SR. WOULD HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT A WING ON THE BACK OF HIS NO. 3 CHEVY? "I knew that question was probably going to come up (laughter). It was a little tough to get him to change sometimes, but if he knew it was better, he would be for it. Who knows? You look back at what an old '73 Chevelle used to look like that we used to race here, or an old Torino, or one of the Superbirds. They ran wings the Superbirds back in '69 and '70. We came back now; we've just got a little different wing and a different look. I think the biggest challenge is that all the cars are so equal. And they're going to get closer. If you look at some of the times today and it's going to be really tight (in qualifying)."
CAN YOU HANDICAP YOUR TEAMS GOING INTO THE 500? "We're not real excited about qualifying, but I think our cars are really going to race good. We spent a lot of time down here getting our cars so they can drive and race good. And we're excited about the race itself. I think we're going to be good."
YOUR GRANDSON IS RUNNING THE NO. 3. WILL WE EVER SEE IT IN CUP? "Well, you know, you ever say never. But right now we don't have any plans. He's running the No. 3 on the dirt and he's going to run it on the Camping World East Series next year."
HOW BIG A DEAL IS IT WHEN AN EARNHARDT WINS AT DAYTONA? "I think it's big. If we can't win, I'd just as soon see Dale Jr. win. We're pulling for any of the cars that have got the ECR engines in them. If none of those cars win, we root for Junior."
WAS THAT A TYPICAL DALE JR. MOMENT LAST NIGHT? FIRST TIME OUT OF THE BOX, HE GETS THAT QUESTION PUT TO REST? "Yeah, he's that good here. He's just like his dad was. He's really good on this race track and he put the thing in the right place and had his car in position to win in the end."
HOW HAS THE BALANCE OF POWER SHIFTED IN THE SPORT WHEN HE WENT TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "It's going to make Hendrick stronger. He's sitting there now with four really top teams. I think they're going to be someone to reckon with, but we've just got to go out and figure out how to beat them. We can't depend on them to beat themselves, we've just got to figure out how to beat them."
WHEN YOU THINK BACK 10 YEARS AGO TO THAT WIN, DID IT REALLY MATTER HOW MANY MORE YOU MIGHT WIN BECAUSE OF ALL THE STRUGGLE IT TOOK TO WIN THAT ONE? "Yeah, it's just like championships. Dale and I never talked about just winning seven; we always talked about winning eight or nine. It's the same thing with the 500. We came back to try to win it. We'd been in position after the '98 when we were sitting there with hopefully a chance to win."
DO YOU THINK THIS RACE IS EXTRA SPECIAL TO DRIVERS? IS IT A NAME MAKER? "It is. I think to drivers, it's something they need on their resume to complete their career. A guy can retire and there have been greats that have retired that didn't win it, but the greats have also won it."
WITH ALL THE THINGS DALE EARNHARDT SR HAD WON, DO YOU THINK HE REALLY NEEDED THAT ONE? "He wanted it real bad. And to see him finally get it was the most rewarding part of it."
DO YOU SEE TONY STEWART'S QUEST TO WIN THE 500 AS A MINI VERSION OF EARNHARDT SR? "Tony is going to win the Daytona 500. It's just a matter of time. He's that competitive and he's that good here."
-credit: gm racing