Dale Earnhardt far from only legend to drive No. 3
December 11, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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It made its debut in the third race of NASCAR's inaugural season, and was in use for every campaign after that until the Daytona 500 in 2001. It's been driven by eight men elected to the sport's Hall of Fame, and three others nominated for it. It's been piloted by a promoter, a car builder, a team owner, an open-wheel legend -- and of course, an Intimidator.
Dale Earnhardt may have made the No. 3 famous, but the seven-time champion is far from the only driver to have wheeled a car bearing one of NASCAR's most magical numbers. When he moves up to the Sprint Cup Series next season, Austin Dillon will become the 74th driver to wheel a No. 3 car at the sport's premier level, joining a long list of luminaries that spans well beyond his beloved immediate predecessor.
The No. 3 has been around since almost the very beginning -- Bill Snowden drove it in just the third "Strictly Stock" event ever, at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro, N.C., in 1949. Joe Littlejohn, one of the sport's foremost early promoters, won the pole with it at the Daytona Beach beach-road course in 1950. Ralph Moody, who would later become half of the Holman-Moody empire, won in it at Richmond in 1957. Al Unser, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, drove it in one of his few NASCAR starts, this one at Riverside in 1968.
That barely scratches the surface of a car that made 1,134 starts and won 97 races until it was put aside indefinitely following Earnhardt's fatal crash at Daytona in 2001. It returns to the track next season with Dillon, who will try to join this list of the 20 most notable NASCAR drivers to have ever piloted the No. 3.
Hershel McGriff: Now 85, NASCAR's ageless wonder was supposed to have retired following the 2002 season, but he returned and ran a race in the K&N Pro Series West as recently as last year. He won four events at NASCAR's top level, mostly notably at Charlotte in 1954. And he made two starts in the No. 3, both in the 1952 season for owner Beryl Jackson, with a best finish of seventh at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit.
Dick Rathmann: An open-wheel racer who enjoyed far more success in NASCAR, Rathmann scored 13 victories at the sport's top level, including the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington. The next year he finished third in the standings behind Herb Thomas and Lee Petty. The Southern Californian drove the No. 3 for most of the 1954 and '55 seasons, and scored the final three victories of his career -- at Oakland, North Wilkesboro and Willow Springs -- with that number on his door.
Paul Goldsmith: A former motorcycle racing great who remains the only man to win at Daytona on both two wheels and four, Goldsmith was regular in the No. 3 car in the late 1950s while competing for Smokey Yunick. The West Virginia native won nine times on NASCAR's premier series, and perhaps his most notable victory was the final event on the Daytona Beach beach-road course in 1958, before the event moved to the big track. Of course, he was driving the No. 3.
Tim Flock: One of the absolute greats of NASCAR's early years, Flock earned two championships and a 39 race victories in a stellar career that would land the Atlanta resident a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Eighteen of his wins came in one dominant season driving for marine magnate Carl Kiekhaefer, who had Flock pilot the No. 300 to mirror the model of the Chrysler he fielded. Flock drove the No. 3 for Yunick in one event -- a 1956 race at Pennsylvania's Langhorne Speedway, where he appropriately finished third.
Tom Pistone: One of the premier-short track racers of his day, "Tiger" Tom was indeed a terror on bullrings around his native Chicago. He claimed premier-series victories at Trenton and Richmond in 1959, but enjoyed most of his success at Soldier Field, the football stadium that was once the city's foremost racing venue, and where he won a record 38 features including a NASCAR convertible event. It was at Soldier Field where Pistone made his lone start in the No. 3, finishing 22nd after his brakes went out.
Cotton Owens: A mechanical mastermind, a championship owner, a winning driver, the one-time King of the Modifieds -- Owens did it all, often gazing out from the beneath the brim of a white cowboy hat. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won a title as a car owner with David Pearson and nine premier-series races behind the wheel himself, including the 1957 event on Daytona's beach-road course. He drove a handful of events in the No. 3 for Jim Stephens in 1958, with a best finish of third in Salisbury, N.C., in 1958.
Fireball Roberts: One of the biggest stars of his era, Roberts won 33 races -- including a sweep of both Daytona races in 1962 -- and might have won many more if not for his untimely death from burns suffered in a crash at Charlotte. Elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013, Roberts didn't win a championship, but he won just about everything else, including the Fourth of July race at Daytona in Stephens' No. 3 car in 1959.
Jim Paschal: A successful short-track racer from the North Carolina heartland, Paschal won 25 premier-series races over a long career than began with the circuit's first race at Charlotte in 1949, and ended after an event at the same track in 1972. Paschal made a pair of starts in the No. 3 car at Daytona in 1961, carrying the city's dog racing track as his primary sponsor. In the 500, he finished 49th in a 58-car field after his vehicle busted a seal.
Marvin Panch: The Wisconsin native earned 17 career victories including the 1961 Daytona 500, but Panch is as well-remembered for one he didn't win -- the Great American Race in 1962, which he missed after crashing in a sports-car event. Tiny Lund, who pulled him from the wreckage, got the ride as a sign of gratitude and went on to win the race. In 1961, Panch also made two of starts in that No. 3 Daytona Kennel Club car, finishing sixth at Atlanta and Darlington.
Junior Johnson: Moonshiner, driver, jack man, crew chief, car owner, engine builder -- Johnson did it all over the course of a varied and unparalleled career that would make him part of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As a driver, Johnson spent parts of the 1962, '63, and '64 campaigns driving a No. 3 car for Ray Fox, making 49 starts total in the vehicle. He won in the car nine times, with a pair of those triumphs coming at Charlotte.
Buck Baker: Founder of a prominent driving school and father of a son who would become a successful racer in his own right, Baker was a force, winning 46 races and a pair of premier-series championships in a career that spanned four decades and earned him election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013. Like Johnson, he piloted Ray Fox's No. 3 regularly in the middle 1960s, making 22 starts in the vehicle and recording the final two victories of his career in the car, at Darlington and Valdosta, Ga., in 1964.
David Pearson: On the very short list of the greatest drivers ever, Pearson's 105 victories at NASCAR's top level rank second all-time. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won three titles, and likely would have won more had be competed in more full seasons. Early in his career Pearson did two stints in the No. 3, one in owner John Masoni's Daytona Kennel Club car in 1961, and another the next year with Fox. He made just 13 starts in the car, recording the first three wins of his career in the vehicle, beginning with the World 600 at Charlotte in 1961.
Lee Roy Yarbrough: The native of Jacksonville, Fla., won 14 times at NASCAR's top level, and has a Southern 500 and a World 600 to his credit. His best season was 1969, where he won seven times racing for Junior Johnson. Yarbrough -- no relation to Cale Yarborough, whose last name is spelled differently -- made six starts in 1965 in Fox's No. 3 car, and his best finish was fifth at Charlotte.
Buddy Baker: He was born to go fast, and the son of Buck Baker did just that in becoming the first NASCAR driver to crack 200 mph on a closed oval, in a test at Talladega. Baker won 19 times in a long career that spanned parts of five decades, claiming the 1980 Daytona 500 among his most notable triumphs. And early in his career he was another driver in Ray Fox's stable, making many starts in the No. 3 car during the late 1960s. Baker won in the car twice, both times at Charlotte, the latter victory in the 1968 World 600.
Fred Lorenzen: Another product of Soldier Field and the Chicago-area short tracks, Fast Freddie Lorenzen was a star of the 1960s driving cars fielded by the Holman-Moody juggernaut. He won 26 times in his career, all of them in Holman-Moody equipment, and finished third in points in 1963. A past nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Lorenzen made just one start in the No. 3 car, for Fox at Charlotte in the fall of 1970. Once again, the No. 3 car came home in third.
Cale Yarborough: A bulldog of a driver who rose from humble beginnings to enjoy a Hall of Fame career, Yarborough's 83 career victories rank ninth all-time in NASCAR. He was the only driver to win three consecutive championships until Jimmie Johnson tied and then surpassed him. And he did his time in the No. 3, making four starts in Fox's vehicle in the early 1970s, and recording a best finish of sixth in the 1972 Daytona 500.
Bobby Isaac: Another nominee for the most recent class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Isaac won 37 races and the 1970 premier-series championship in a career that would become synonymous with the No. 71 K&K Insurance car and crew chief Harry Hyde. Toward the end of his career he made three starts in a No. 3 car owned by Ed Gibson, all of them in the fall of 1975. His best finish in the vehicle was seventh, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
Richard Childress: Long before he was a car owner nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Childress was a driver, and behind the wheel he made the No. 3 his own. Childress got his start in the boycotted 1969 Talladega race, and eventually raced as an independent driver/owner. He drove the No. 3 car from 1976 through the 1981 season, never winning but often proving competitive despite his independent status. Childress' best finish came at Nashville in 1978, where he finished third.
Ricky Rudd: The driver who would become NASCAR's all-time consecutive start leader took over the No. 3 in 1982, after Childress exited the car for good and Dale Earnhardt had made his first, brief stint in the vehicle. Rudd enjoyed a successful career, winning 23 times at NASCAR's top level, and notched at least one victory 16 years in a row. The Ironman scored his first two career wins in the No. 3, at Riverside and Martinsville in 1983, snapping a winless streak in the vehicle that dated back to Charlie Glotzbach in 1971.
Dale Earnhardt: No one is more synonymous with the No. 3 than the most recent man to drive it. The NASCAR Hall of Famer piloted the vehicle into the history books, winning six of his seven titles and 67 of his 76 race victories in the No. 3. After stints with Rod Osterlund and Bud Moore, Earnhardt returned to Childress and the No. 3 car for good in 1984, winning twice and finishing fourth in the standings. Two years later, he was a champion. Soon after that, he was a legend.