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22 April 2016--Austin Dillon during practice for the ToyotoCare 250 at the Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, VA.(HHP Photo/Alan Marler)

$20 and a Dream: The Story Behind Richard Childress Racing’s 3,000 Cup Starts

“Only in America, only in America could a kid with a $20 race car and a dream be here speaking today,” said team owner Richard Childress.

Now entering his 51st year as a team owner, that same kid with a $20 race car and a dream has entered 40 different drivers under the Richard Childress Racing banner in the NASCAR Cup Series. From drivers like the late Dale Earnhardt all the way to his own grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon, Richard Childress Racing has been fielding entries in NASCAR’s top series since 1969.

When Childress’ two young drivers Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick take the green flag this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, it will mark a momentous milestone with starts 2,999 and 3,000 for Richard Childress Racing. For most team owners, several hundred starts would prove to be an impressive feat; however, Childress is not most team owners. Childress’ hard work and dedication to the sport he loves has established a legacy at a level many could only dream of.

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If you ask Childress, he’ll tell you it all started with a $20 race car and a dream. Despite the powerhouse team that Richard Childress Racing has grown to be today, it wasn’t always like that. Childress came from humble beginnings. Looking to make a name for himself behind the wheel, Childress purchased a 1947 Plymouth for $20. It didn’t take long before Childress was a regular at local racetracks like Bowman Gray Stadium. In 1969, Childress got what he considers “one of the biggest breaks of his career” during the driver’s boycott, where he served as one of the fill-in drivers at Talladega Superspeedway. From there, he started his own race team, Richard Childress Racing.

Childress was a talented driver in his own right, racing for himself over ten years. However, the sport was beginning to change, and Childress recognized the importance and need for a strong owner role within his team. After a conversation in 1981 with a few men from Wrangler and Winston, Childress decided to step out of the driver’s seat and take a chance on a young man from Kannapolis, N.C. by the name of Dale Earnhardt.

The rest you could say is history. Earnhardt went on to score 67 victories and six championships for Richard Childress Racing including the historic 1998 Daytona 500 victory that eluded him for so long.

Childress 87 Champions
1987 Winston Cup Series Champions.

After the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt, the next chapter of Richard Childress Racing began in 2001 when Childress decided to take a chance on another young driver. Kevin Harvick scored his first career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in just his third career Cup Series start. Childress considers that win, to this day, a huge “healing moment” for the entire organization in a deep time of grief. Harvick went on to compete for Richard Childress Racing for 13 seasons, adding 23 wins to the storied race team’s history.

In 2014, Childress added yet another historic chapter to the legacy he built by bringing the famed No. 3 car out of retirement for his grandson, Austin Dillon. In the No. 3 car’s first appearance since Dale Earnhardt, Dillon answered the call by claiming the pole position for the Daytona 500. A few short years later, the No. 3 returned to victory lane when Dillon scored his first career Cup Series win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 2018, exactly 20 years after Dale Earnhardt scored his 1998 Daytona 500 victory, Dillon pulled his No. 3 Dow Chevrolet into victory lane as a Daytona 500 champion.

Throwback Thursday
Richard Childress, Austin Dillon and Justin Alexander show off their rings after winning the 2018 Daytona 500.

There’s been a lot of history in the past 50 years of Richard Childress Racing. Now in 2020, drivers Dillon and young rookie phenom Reddick look to add to the historic legacy of Richard Childress Racing with the team’s 2,999th and 3,000th career starts this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Even after all the great wins and championships, he has accomplished over the years, Childress takes great pride in his family and his humble beginnings. A fierce competitor at the racetrack, Childress has built one of NASCAR’s most prestigious and storied franchises in the history of auto racing. It all started with a kid from Winston-Salem, N.C. with a $20 racecar and a dream.