Friday, March 2, 2001
When will we see the No. 3 again?
By Mike Griffith, Scripps Howard News Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR fans haven't seen the last of the black No. 3 Chevrolet that Dale Earnhardt made famous.
Ty Norris, the director of motorsports at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI), said it's just a matter of when and how the car will resurface.
|"It's between Richard Childress and Teresa (Earnhardt)," Norris said. "Those two are pretty dedicated for the fans to see that car again sometime, somewhere, somehow. I think there will be a place for it."
Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, died at the age of 49 after crashing in the final turn on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. The No. 3 car had been painted black since 1988, when GM-Goodwrench came aboard as the title sponsor.
Childress, owner of the cars driven by Earnhardt, announced last week in Rockingham, N.C., that there would be a one- year moratorium on the No. 3 itself. NASCAR's policy doesn't allow numbers to be retired. Further, Childress said, when the No. 3 returns, the cars will not be painted black.
In the meantime, rookie Kevin Harvick is behind the wheel of Goodwrench Chevys that are wearing the No. 29 and have been painted white.
Harvick was impressive in his Cup debut, finishing 14th in the Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway on Monday. The white Goodwrench car, however, was difficult to pick out in traffic.
"I can't even find the No. 29 car in the pack; it would make me feel better if I saw the black No. 3 on the track," said Darrell Waltrip, a three-time series champion who now works as an analyst for Fox. "When we finally get control of our emotions, we'll look at the future of the sport and think of all the people who follow Dale's race car, and realize that the No. 3 and that color are synonymous with our sport. At some point, they need to reconsider this."
Larry McReynolds, a crew chief on the black No. 3 in 1997 and 1998 said that the car should return for the sake of Earnhardt's fans.
"I've got to believe that all the fans who have No. 3 jackets, license plates and hats, are looking for something to cling to, and right now they have nothing," said McReynolds, who works alongside Waltrip in the broadcast booth. "I say don't take that car away from them.
"I think Richard (Childress) will view this a little different once his mind clears. There's an obligation to the fans. Right now, there's nothing out there that pays tribute to Dale Earnhardt."
McReynolds was working as the crew chief for Davey Allison when the rising star died at the age of 32 as a result of injuries sustained in the helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway in July of 1993. Allison was the most popular professional sports figure in the state of Alabama at the time of his death.
The number and the color of the car Allison drove remained the same in the wake of his passing. Except for a subtle change in the number font, the car is very similar to this day, with Ricky Rudd now behind the wheel.
Robert Yates, who owns the No. 28 Texaco Ford, said he kept the same paint scheme and number on the car to honor the wishes of Davey's father, Bobby Allison.
"There's no one way to do it," Yates said. "I don't think we should sweep anything under the rug and try to forget it. Just going off and getting it out of our minds is not what we wanted to do.
"In our situation with Davey, we listened to the fans."
And the fans roared with approval when the No. 28 returned to the track less than two weeks after Allison's death.
"I still remember the first race we ran, it was at Talladega of all places, right there at Davey's home track," McReynolds said. "Donnie Allison got in the 28 car in the pre-race and drove around the track while the group Alabama played the song, 'The Fan.'
"My idea is to put a 28 and a 3 car at the head of the field beside the pace car at the start of the race at Talladega."
Earnhardt is Talladega's all-time winningest driver with 10 victories, and he took the 76th and final checkered flag of his illustrious career at the Alabama track last October.
Driver Steve Park, whose victory in the Dura-Lube 400 on Monday gave DEI its second victory in as many races this season, said Earnhardt's status was greater than any number or paint scheme.
"You hear people talk about retiring the number and stuff," Park said. "The 3 was the number that Dale had, but that wasn't Dale Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt was an icon in his own right."
Mike Griffith writes for The Knoxville News-Sentinel
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