Garage Series: Full field of No. 3 cars at RCR
July 22, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Fourth in a series: NASCAR.com traces the evolution of race shops throughout the years.
WELCOME, N.C. -- How many are there? It’s difficult to say. Dozens at the very least.
The majority feature the familiar black paint scheme, trimmed in silver, with the unforgettable stylized No. 3 emblazoned on the sides and roof.
Monte Carlos and Luminas line the walls, each in one stage of preparation or another.
Waiting, it seems, for another day’s work to be done.
This isn’t where Richard Childress Racing got its start, but where the company blossomed and grew into a championship-winning organization.
And it's been moving forward at a lightning-fast pace ever since.
• • •
“I left there with more money than I thought I’d ever see in my life,” said Richard Childress. “I didn’t think I’d ever have to work again.”
What turned out to be a short-lived attempt at a drivers’ union set the stage for what was to become one of NASCAR’s most popular, most successful teams.
When many of the top Grand National drivers balked at competing in the 1969 Talladega 500 due to safety concerns, Childress was one of several Grand American competitors that stuck around an extra day to fill the suddenly-shortened field.
It was his debut in what would become the Cup series. It was also a move that would have monumental consequences.
“That was probably the biggest turn in Richard Childress’ financial world,” he said. “Big Bill France paid us extra money to run (Sunday). I had money from the first race on Saturday … and then he gave us money to run that race the next day.”
His combined winnings, along with the “bonus,” allowed Childress to return home to Winston-Salem, N.C., and build his first race shop, a small building on Highway 109 that still stands today.
The signs out front give no indication of the building’s history, with a pawn shop and tool business on one end and hairdresser on the other.
The first Richard Childress Racing shop was a product of winnings at Talladega in 1969.
“It was an automotive repair shop. We worked on cars for a living and kept the race cars, worked on them there,” Childress said. “Just myself and a friend, that was it.”
Occasionally a young man would stop by to hang out and help work on cars. “Barry Dodson,” he said of the youngster who would go on to help lead Rusty Wallace to the 1989 Cup title. “I ended up hiring Barry for awhile. He was probably one of the first employees I had.”
• • •
There’s a Wheaties car, a Wrangler car and a car featuring the ‘Taz’ cartoon character on the hood. A Legends car -- from country music star Kix Brooks -- sits around one corner, a legend’s car -- Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 winning entry from 1998 -- around another.
Just how many are there?
• • •
The Richard Childress Racing Museum showcases cars throughout the history of the organization.
It got too crowded up on Gumtree Road, site No. 2 for Childress and his growing organization. By the early 1980s, after little more than a decade of being an owner/driver, Childress stepped out of the car and turned his attention to building a more competitive race team.
With Dale Earnhardt behind the wheel, that’s exactly what was happening. Wins were starting to occur more frequently, Richard Childress Racing was expanding until suddenly one day there was no more room.
And once again, Childress began looking for a new location.
The second Richard Childress Racing shop is now known as The Cycle Shop.
“It was just a big old field,” Childress said of the 30-plus acre parcel in Welcome, N.C. “I wanted a big piece of property to put some buildings on -- I sold a couple of lots to help pay for it -- and we built the first shop here. And it just kept growing and growing and growing.”
There are approximately 14 buildings on site, housing everything from Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series teams to the Okuma Technology Center for machining various parts, and Earnhardt Childress Engines, which supplies engines for five Cup teams and nine in GRAND-AM.
There’s a 17,000 square foot auditorium, an on-site photo studio as well as the organization’s own graphics company.
“I looked at places in Charlotte, spent quite a bit of time thinking about setting a shop up down there,” Childress said.
“But I felt it was a lot easier a lot of the time … if you learn something, to keep it up here. You get your people, your employees fixed up, they get a house up here and are pretty content. I think the cost of living is a little more reasonable. Really it ended up working out better to be out of Charlotte and being out of that day-to-day routine of people greasing up their wheels on their toolbox and rolling it to the next shop or something.”
Childress has no plans to uproot and move elsewhere anytime soon. And with more than half a million square feet under roof, it’s hard to believe more room may be necessary.
That could be the case, however.
“We finally ran out of space up here, we’ve got 30-some acres, we’re out of space so I ended up buying the other 25 acres that joins us in case we want to build another building,” he said. “And we have talked about that.”
• • •
The majority of RCR’s 103 Cup wins came from cars built in this building, a 25,000 square foot structure that opened in the summer of 1986.
In 2002, RCR moved into a new 86,000-square foot Cup shop, expanding to three teams to go with its two Nationwide Series teams. (RCR)
By 2000, work was already underway on the new shop next door, which would bring all the RCR Cup teams under one roof.
“When we lost Dale, we had that whole old shop … I didn’t know what to do with it at the time,” Childress said.
“You don’t want to rent it out, put a body shop or a warehouse or something in, because it has history there.”
So Childress did what he thought was fitting -- by tying together the original shop with an existing, much smaller museum that featured "a few collectible cars," the Richard Childress Museum came into being.
“Just decided to build it and give something back to the fans,” he said.
How many are there? How many cars driven by the Intimidator line the walls, looking as if they could be back on the track in a matter of days if not sooner?
A look inside the current Richard Childress Racing headquarters.
“I think we have 43 or 44 original Dale cars, going back to the ‘80s all the way up until 2000,” Childress said of the seven-time Cup champion and longtime friend. “I guess when he won Talladega would be the last car in there. Just a lot of history in that building.”
At the very back inside the truck bay sits the hauler. Pulled in and parked after Earnhardt, 49, died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Untouched since its return, it too appears to be waiting. For another day’s work to be done.
NASCAR.com writer Kenny Bruce is the president of the National Motorsports Press Association. For more of the Garage Series return to the Mobil 1 Technology Hub in the coming weeks.
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