Austin Dillon is NASCAR royalty. He may not have any NASCAR Sprint Cup wins in the seven starts he’s had to date, but he is still a part of one of NASCAR’s royal family.
Dillon, of course, is the grandson of championship team owner Richard Childress.
Raised around racing his entire life, Dillon found early success in his own career. For example, he was the 2008 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at 18 years old.
Notoriety followed Dillon as he raced his grandfather’s number – the iconic No. 3 – in NASCAR competition.
The black Goodwrench Chevrolet No. 3 is heavily associated with Childress’ late driver Dale Earnhardt. It was while driving the No.3 Earnhardt won six of his seven championships with Childress as his team owner.
Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 was a critical blow to Childress, his team, and the sport as a whole.
But racing people continue to do what they know – race – even in the face of death, mourning, and loss.
In NASCAR, numbers are not retired like they are in other sports. Many drivers have died on the job, others while in the prime of their racing careers, and still others who have retired gracefully. None of their numbers have been retired.
Many loyal fans to “The Intimidator,” Earnhardt, feel that once their hero died that the car number so associated with him should be retired.
Childress never has run the number in the Cup series since Earnhardt’s death. Earnhardt’s erstwhile replacement on the team, Kevin Harvick, took the No. 29 Childress asked permission to run.
But ever since Childress’ two grandsons, Austin and Ty were little boys, they hung around the world of NASCAR. They attended races, hung out at the garages and plotted their own racing careers.
Austin, the elder of Childress’ two grandsons, was able to strike out first. He did so running his grandpa’s No.3 in competition as he came up through different series.
The number is a part of the man.
Running the No. 3 in competition on the race track is as normal as can be for Dillon.
Many argue the only driver who should run the iconic number is Dale Earnhardt Jr., Earnhardt’s son. But Earnhardt Jr. vehemently disagrees.
Earnhardt Jr. is on record stating that the No. 3 was creating history in NASCAR long before his father stepped into the ride, and should continue to do so even though his famous father is gone.
In fact, Earnhardt Jr. equated the car as a bank where drivers continue to deposit history.
And he doesn’t want in the car.
Earnhardt’s legacy was Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI). No longer the organization it once was at its heyday, Earnhardt Jr. left his namesake company and sought greener pastures at arguably NASCAR’s greatest modern race organization, Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt Jr. spends his entire career and life proving he is not his father. He certainly does not want to run his late father’s car in a time when his fans still remember his dad.
Driving the No. 3, however, is the exact legacy that Childress has created for his grandson since he was a young lad.
Dillon is a strong, vital, and unique young man who makes no apologies for who he is. His handshake is firm, his eye contact direct, and his words well thought out.
From his signature cowboy hat to the way he carries himself, his driving style to his unmistakable results, Dillon is one of NASCAR’s rising stars.
And who better to step into the No. 3 to continue its distinguished and storied history – from Junior Johnson to Earnhardt – than Childress’ grandson?
In his relatively short time racing in NASCAR in its top three tiers, Dillon has won the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, was the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and continues to make inroads in both Nationwide and Cup.
It’s time to welcome back the No. 3 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It’s time to embrace the next generation of NASCAR royalty who happens to be the real deal.
Dillon swept at Kentucky Speedway in 2012 in Nationwide. Look for him to be a major contender