Richard Childress is chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, one of the most storied teams in NASCAR he founded in 1969.
If there’s a testimony to the all-American success story, Childress has lived it. In a career spanning almost five decades, Richard established a racing team in his home garage and has grown it into one of the largest motorsports organizations in NASCAR.
Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Childress spent time as a child at Bowman Gray Stadium, the city’s local short track, where he sold peanuts and popcorn to help support his family.
From that time spent at the racetrack, Childress caught the racing bug. He idolized drivers like Cale Yarborough and David Pearson, and hoped one day he too could make it as a professional stock car racer.
Childress’ first foray into racing came when he bought his first race car, an old 1947 Plymouth previously used as a taxi cab. The price? A whopping $20.
He and a friend split the cost to buy that old taxi cab, and they flipped a coin to see who would drive it. Richard won that toss, and a budding career in motorsports began.
The struggle of an independent driver/owner
Childress got his first opportunity to compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned event in the Fall of 1969 when 16 drivers boycotted the race at Talladega Superspeedway, allowing him to enter the field. His 23rd-place finish was rather unremarkable, but more notably it marked the birth of Richard Childress Racing.
For a long time, RCR was a one-man team – Richard was the driver, head mechanic, chief engine builder and mostly everything in between.
Childress found difficulties as an independent driver/owner – he had to work side jobs to fund his race operations, which sometimes meant 18 to 20-hour work days. Richard would compete in as many races as he could to continue to achieve his racing aspirations, often traveling for weeks at a time. Sleeping in the back of the truck after a long day at the race track was something
Childress admits tested his desire to be a race car driver.
He continued as a driver for 12 years and made 285 starts in NASCAR’s premier series, with limited success. Richard realized if he wanted to continue competing at the highest levels of NASCAR competition, he needed to focus on team ownership and hire a full-time driver.
Finding success, then dominance
By the time the 1980s rolled around, Childress had grown RCR to a handful of full-time and part-time employees working in his single-car shop.
He retired from driving the No. 3 car and hired Ricky Rudd to get behind the wheel for the 1983 season, with sponsorship from nearby Piedmont Airlines. Rudd piloted the No. 3 to deliver RCR its first NASCAR win at Riverside International Speedway on June 5, 1983.
The win with Rudd was monumental for RCR; it had taken Childress 14 years to find Victory Lane. Trying times had driven Childress to consider giving up on his motorsports career, but the win at Riverside gave RCR footing towards becoming an elite NASCAR team. Rudd finished out the 1983 season strong with two wins and four pole awards building momentum for the little race team from Welcome, North Carolina.
Then, in 1984, Childress made a deal to have another driver pilot the No. 3, someone who at the age of 30 was said to be past his prime. The driver’s name? Dale Earnhardt.
While Earnhardt had driven for RCR in a handful of events during the 1981 season, it wasn’t until 1984 when Earnhardt raced full time for Childress. It didn’t take long for Earnhardt and Childress to find their way into Victory Lane; their first win together came at Talladega Superspeedway on July 29, 1984. It was the first of 67 wins Earnhardt would record under the RCR banner.
The Childress-Earnhardt duo was lightning in a bottle. RCR, still only a one-car team, won the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1986. During the 1987 season, Earnhardt won an impressive 11 of the 29 races en route to the team’s second consecutive series championship. RCR would go on to win championships again in 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994, bringing Childress’ total as a team owner to six. With Earnhardt behind the wheel of the No. 3, RCR became one of the most dominant teams in NASCAR during the 1980s and 1990s.
For 25 years, RCR remained a one-car team; however Childress looked into expanding his operation when NASCAR announced the formation of a Truck Series.
With sponsorship from GM Goodwrench, Childress hired Mike Skinner to drive the No. 3 Chevrolet Silverado during the 1995 inaugural season, winning a series-high eight victories and taking home the first-ever driver championship.
By the time the 1998 season rolled around, Childress had six championships and 61 Cup Series wins under his belt. A successful career in the eyes of many, but one thing missing was NASCAR’s crown jewel: the Daytona 500. He competed in the “Great American Race” eight times as a driver and 16 times as an owner, coming up just short of winning many times. But in 1998, Earnhardt delivered Childress his first of two Daytona 500 championships – nine years later Kevin Harvick won the 2007 Daytona 500 in the No. 29 Chevrolet.
A few years later, when Kevin Harvick won the 2001 Busch Series championship, Childress became the first team owner to win championships in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series.
Childress is also a three-time winner of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earnhardt gave RCR its first win there in 1995, followed by Harvick in 2003 and Paul Menard 2011.
RCR began fielding multiple entries in the Cup Series in 1997 with the formation of the No. 31 team and expanded to three teams during the 2002 season. Childress grew his footprint into all three NASCAR national series and continued winning at every level.
Still a passionate owner nearly five decades later
From a one-man team in 1969, Childress has grown RCR into one of the largest organizations in NASCAR, with more than 530 team members supporting multiple teams in the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series.
Still very involved in the day-to-day operations at RCR, Richard can be found at the racetrack every weekend during the season watching over team activities and interacting with RCR sponsor guests and fans.
In 2017, Childress, his career and contributions to the sport of NASCAR will be celebrated throughout the stock car racing community as he is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
A family affair
Childress’ family shares his love for motorsports. His grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, began racing under the RCR banner in the early 2000s. The Dillon brothers, who grew up playing stick-and-ball sports, worked their way up the ranks of amateur stock car and dirt car racing and now both race full-time for RCR. Austin won the 2011 Camping World Truck Series and the 2013 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship and currently drives the No. 3 Chevrolet SS in the Cup Series. Ty won the 2011 ARCA Racing Series championship and is a full-time driver in the XFINITY Series for RCR and in the Cup Series for Germain Racing.
Childress’ son-in-law, Mike Dillon, was a former XFINITY Series driver in the mid-1990s and now serves as RCR’s Vice President of Competition. He is married to Childress’ only daughter, Tina.
His wife, Judy, played an integral part in the beginnings of RCR and still is involved with the racing operations today. Richard and Judy have been married for more than 50 years.
Passions away from the track
Away from the track, Childress is a businessman, philanthropist and conservationist – he loves wine, the outdoors and investing in America’s youth.
From frequent visits to wine country while competing at Sonoma Raceway in California, Childress developed an engaging passion for wine and soon formed a vision to build a world-class winery of his own. Childress Vineyards was established in 2004 and is now one of the most prominent wineries in North Carolina having won numerous awards.
Childress enjoys spending his free time outdoors and has been an avid hunter and fisherman since he was a child. Having traveled to many parts of the world, he became an activist for the conservation of our natural resources. He proudly supports the Congressional Sportsman Foundation and served two terms on the organization’s board. Childress also supports the Boone & Crocket Club as well as non-government organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. In 2015, he was elected as second vice president of the National Rifle Association after serving as a board member for the largest pro-Second Amendment organization in the United States. During the NASCAR off season, Childress can be found hunting at his home in Montana or fishing at his Hampton Estate in Lexington, North Carolina.
In 2008, he and his wife Judy founded the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma (CIPT) after learning about the lack of support and funding for the No. 1 killer of children in the United States. CIPT carries a mission to help discover and share the best ways to prevent and treat severe injuries to children. In conjunction with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the Childress Institute continues to be the focus of Childress’ and RCR’s philanthropic efforts.
Awards, Accomplishments and Accolades
•More than 200 NASCAR victories
•Two Daytona 500 Championships and three Brickyard 400 wins
•First owner to win championships in all three touring NASCAR series
•Six Cup Series Owner Championships
•Five NASCAR XFINITY Series Owner Championships
•Four NASCAR XFINITY Series Driver Championships
•Two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championships
•One ARCA Racing Series Championship
•The Sporting News Owner of the Year: 2001, 2006 and 2010
•2008 NASCAR Humanitarian of the Year
•2011 NASCAR Buddy Shuman Award winner
•North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame class of 2008
•International Motorsports Hall of Fame class of 2011
•National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame class of 2012
•Motorsports Hall of Fame class of 2016
•North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame class of 2016
•NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2017