Even the casual automotive enthusiast has likely heard of Dale Earnhardt Sr. He was one of the most popular racers in NASCAR’s history and his death in 2001 rocked the racing world like never before. The crash that ultimately led to his passing also was the spark to make the HANS safety devices standard. Memories of his untimely demise may be stirred back up, as the #3 will be used on a NASCAR again next season.
The number 3 was never officially retired, as NASCAR does not retire numbers. Rather, the owner of the number, Richard Childress, chose out of respect to not use the number, but continued to own it. Now, Childress’s grandson Austin Dillon may very well use the number when he enters NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series next year. Dillon has used the number 3 (likely looking up to the Intimidator) as early as his karting years, and all the way up through the various feeder series, including Nationwide.
Now, there are two schools of thought here. On the one hand, many NASCAR fans will scoff at the notion of a rookie using the number of perhaps one of the greatest drivers to ever round an oval. But it should be noted that Childress has owned the number three since 1976 when he raced himself. After he retired, he gave the number to a then-up-and-coming Earnhardt. In this respect, it is perfectly acceptable for Childress to hand his own number off to his grandson.
But when does a number become more than a car designation, and is a symbol of racing that was adored by countless race fans. If NASCAR did retire numbers, 3 would be the first to go, but they don’t, so as it stands, Childress is well within his rights. It doesn’t mean you have to agree; tell us what you think in the comments below.