Note: This is a collection of stories and images for an eight-part series highlighting Richard Childress’ induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2017. Each of the items will be featured in Childress’ “shadow box” for one year inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Up until 1998, Richard Childress had accomplished just about everything a stock car owner would want to accomplish: six Cup Series championships. Trips to Victory Lane many times over. A Brickyard 400 championship. Even a championship in the inaugural season of NASCAR’s Truck Series.
But as the story goes, Childress was missing the crown jewel of NASCAR – a Daytona 500 win.
“We won the Daytona 499 so many times.” Childress said.
Consistently Earnhardt and Childress seemed to have bad luck. Earnhardt had a flat tire on the last lap of the 1990 Daytona 500. He came up short several times after.
In the 1998 season opener at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Childress remembered feeling particularly optimistic. His team had come off a ‘down’ year where Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3 team didn’t win a race. Earnhardt had gone a bit of a dry spell himself, not having notched a victory in 57 races.
But they put those woes were behind them and viewed the ’98 season as a new opportunity to claim victory in a race they’d come up short winning several times before. A win in the Daytona 500 would undoubtedly be RCR’s biggest win in its history.
Earnhardt drove across the finish line that afternoon – February 15, 1998 – in first place. Immediately, Childress felt a weight lifted from his shoulders.
“I knew how much that win meant to Dale and what it did for our race team. I was just so happy we finally won the big one.”
In Victory Lane, Earnhardt and Childress embraced.
“It was a mad house in the winner’s circle because everyone wanted to come over and congratulate Dale.” Childress said. “Fans, crew guys, people from other teams. It was a really special moment, but chaotic.”
Standing on the podium during one of the biggest moments of his NASCAR career, Childress was handed a large, heavy dark leather jacket embroidered with the words that would define him for the rest of his life – “Daytona 500 Champion.”
Leather jackets are a customary gift to the winners of major races and championships. Childress had collected several over the years from wins and championships, but nothing like the one he was wearing with his driver after winning that day.
“I didn’t want to take that jacket off. It’s definitely one of the most memorable pieces of history that I have. I’m proud to have it displayed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame for fans to see it.”
Other Hall of Fame Artifact Stories: