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.
When the 1989 NASCAR season rolled around, one of the biggest competitions on the racetrack each week was not between feuding drivers but rival tire companies in the sport. Goodyear Racing’s long investment in NASCAR was being challenged by Hoosier Tires, with the competitors left to decide which brand they would bolt on the car each weekend.
The tire battle began in 1988 when Hoosier first entered the sport and found success, particularly with driver Neil Bonnett. While Hoosier was scoring wins and turning heads, Goodyear was experiencing setbacks due to safety concerns and reliability issues.
Heading into the ’89 season, Goodyear was working to incorporate a new radial tire as opposed to the bias ply tires that had been the norm.
Things did not go as planned, however. Goodyear was forced to pull their tires from competition at Daytona International Speedway at the beginning of the season after several failures resulted in hard wrecks during practice. The planned introduction of the radial tire was put on hold.
As the series hit North Wilkesboro Speedway in April, Goodyear once again rolled out the radial tires for their debut event. The tire company tested the new compound before the weekend and felt confident in their reliability.
A total of 17 of the 32 entries started the race on the new Goodyear radial tires, including Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet with Dale Earnhardt behind the wheel. The seventh race of the season, Earnhardt earned four top-three finishes until that point of the season but was chasing his first victory since August 1988.
Starting third, Earnhardt took the lead for the first time on Lap 26. As the race wore on, those 15 drivers that started the event on Hoosier tires quickly regretted the decision. The Goodyear radial tires proved to be far superior and just over 100 laps into the event the 15 drivers on Hoosiers had all switched to Goodyears.
“As soon as the race started, we know we were in Fat City,” Earnhardt told the Associated Press. “The guys who qualified on Hoosiers had to change under the green and lost laps.”
Throughout the day, Earnhardt went to battle with Geoffrey Bodine, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki. Wallace and Kulwicki put up the biggest fight late in the race but in the end Earnhardt and the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet emerged on top, leading five times for a total of 296 of the 400 laps.
“We tested here on the radials and based on what we’d seen, we felt the tires were safe and consistent,” Earnhardt said after his victory. “I’ve got to hand it to Goodyear in coming back with the radials and proving themselves. They were consistent. All day long we could bank on what the tires would do.
“The more I ran on them the better I liked them,” he said. “I would like to see them tested at all of the tracks.”
Radial Tires Were No Setback for Earnhardt
Former RCR crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine said with the hype and unknowns around Goodyear’s radial tires, the competition saw this as something that would hinder, not help Earnhardt and the RCR team.
“Everybody thought this would be one of the things that’ll keep Dale from winning. When you’re winning every weekend … there were a lot of guys praying and hoping this is what would keep him from winning,” said Shelmerdine. “Radial tires just absolutely threw all that out the window. It was another dumbing down thing for the whole sport, it doesn’t matter what you do. You have the same stuff as the dumb guys.”
With the dramatic success of Goodyear’s new radial tire, Hoosier’s days in NASCAR were numbered. The tire company withdrew from the sport two weeks after Earnhardt delivered Goodyear’s first radial tire victory in North Wilkesboro. They eventually returned in 1994 to the Cup Series but left the sport for good after the conclusion of that season.
The No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove to the win on April 16, 1989 now sits in the Richard Childress Racing Museum in Welcome, North Carolina just as it rolled into Victory Lane that afternoon. Complete with damage, donuts on the door and Goodyear radial tires bolted on, the car provides visitors the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with one of the most unique race-winning cars in NASCAR history.