The Richard Childress Racing Museum located in Welcome, North Carolina may contain the largest collection of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolets, but it is home to a wide variety of items and artifacts from the organization’s nearly 50-year history.
Each week during the 2018 season, we will celebrate Throwback Thursday by featuring an item in the newly redesigned Richard Childress Racing Museum by showcasing its story and unique history to the famed organization.
As the 2002 season rolled around, emotions were high heading into the season-opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway. One year after the untimely death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, a special partnership came together to put an Earnhardt back behind the wheel of a Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet.
For the Xfinity Series 300-mile event on Feb. 16, 2002, Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined forces with RCR in the No. 3 Oreo Chevrolet, his first start for the organization his father had famously driven for over the years.
Earnhardt started fourth and took the lead for the first time on Lap 10. Throughout the day he did battle with Cup Series teammate and 2001 Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, as well as Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
The race came down to a four-car battle between Earnhardt Jr., Waltrip, Kenseth and Jason Keller over the final laps of the event. Waltrip made an attempt down the backstretch and off Turn 4 on the final lap but was unable to make the move to wrestle the lead away from Earnhardt.
On TNT, Alan Bestwick made the call, “Driving a Richard Childress No. 3 made famous by father, here comes Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the start-finish line. Checkered flag. He wins at Daytona.”
Taking the checkered flag, Earnhardt Jr. earned his first-career series win at Daytona as well as RCR’s first Xfinity Series victory at the ‘World Center of Racing.’
With this event marking the first time a No. 3 RCR Chevrolet had competed at Daytona since Earnhardt’s untimely death one year earlier, the victory celebration was big for the entire organization. Earnhardt Jr. spun the car around in the grass before driving into Victory Lane to celebrate with the crew and jump in their arms after climbing from the car.
“Thank you, Richard Childress … everyone that put this together,” Earnhardt said. “This was a special deal. This was for fun. This is what is supposed to happen. This is just for a good time … This was good. It is great to get the 3 back to Victory Lane.
“I try to downplay everything about the No. 3 and my father, but winning the race, now I don’t know if I want to downplay it,” he said. “I know daddy would be real happy. I know Richard must be about this, all the guys at RCR that miss my father dearly, I’m sure this is a big day for them. One last hurrah, I guess.”
Finishing up the interview, Earnhardt Jr. turned into a big hug from Childress, as the two shared a special embrace in Victory Lane.
“This is where (the No. 3) belongs,” Childress told the television broadcast.
“These guys work so hard. Dale (Jr.) drove his heart out today. What can you say, you know? I’m just so proud, so proud of this young man has been able to do.”
Now, that No. 3 Chevrolet calls the RCR Museum home. Fans visiting Welcome, North Carolina can get an up-close and personal look at the cars it rolled out of Victory Lane that afternoon.