There’s a new generation in NASCAR, blazing their own trail and at the same time valuing NASCAR’s rich traditional spirit
Cowboy boots, big belt buckles, blue jeans, sunglasses and stetson cowboy hats are associated with a legend spanning decades of racing in NASCAR. Richard Petty is not only a legend in the sport, his personal style is iconic and recognized world-wide, with his humble personality making him one of NASCAR’s brightest stars among fans.
There’s a new generation on the horizon at NASCAR, and within this group of young drivers are tomorrow’s stars, blazing their own trail into the future of the sport. Among this new generation of drivers are, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon and his brother Ty. Each of these drivers shine with their own personalities and style, while proudly sporting their own cowboy boots, big belt buckles, blue jeans, sunglasses and stetson cowboy hats.
Somewhat controversial among this next generation is the news last week when the Associated Press reported that Austin Dillon would be open to driving the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup series, saying the more people express their desire to see the number on the track again helps in making the decision.
The No. 3 has it’s own rich tradition, not only because it was made famous by Richard Childress’ best friend – Dale Earnhardt Sr’s own legendary career – but because it’s a number that’s been in the Childress family for decades. Childress himself used the number when he drove in NASCAR and the only driver – since 1976 – not a Childress, Dillon or Earnhardt, to run the No. 3 is Ricky Rudd when he briefly drove for Richard Childress Racing in the 80s. It’s also the number the Dillons’ have used throughout their careers, with Austin currently driving the number in the Nationwide series and his brother Ty driving the No. 3 in the Truck series.
Dillon’s grandfather Richard Childress said, he is open to moving the number to the Sprint Cup Series along with his grandson but would want the number to have a different style from the Earnhardt design. At this point, Childress wants to see only an Earnhardt or a Dillon drive the No. 3, a number he considers as family.
After nearly a decade of respectful moratorium which saw no one driving with the legendary number on their car in any of NASCAR’s premier series’, Austin Dillon along with Earnhardt, Jr are the only two drivers bringing the number back to victory lane since Dale Sr’s death in 2001.
Although there are many wanting to see the No. 3 back on the track in Sprint Cup, there are also those who question running the legendary number Dale Earnhardt Sr made so famous.
Dale Earnhardt Sr made the No. 3 iconic as part of NASCAR’s rich tradition and legendary with his success. Dale Sr is one of only two drivers achieving seven championships throughout their career. The other legend achieving this feat has created his own iconic identity as “The King” of NASCAR – Richard Petty.
No one questions, drivers wearing the same iconic fashion as Richard Petty, including Petty himself. His place in history is firmly grounded, as is the legend of Dale Earnhardt Sr, known as the Man in Black and the Intimidator. These men have carved their own places within the tradition of NASCAR and their names stand tall within its history. Their numbers are associated with these men with the 43 and 3 forever associated with their names.
There have been many others – not within the Petty family – driving the iconic No. 43 since Petty retired in 1992, yet everyone still fondly remembers and honors the No. 43’s place in history beside The King. It’s an attraction to fans when the iconic red, white and blue STP No. 43 is on display honoring the legend of Richard Petty.
This precedent should be reassuring to fans of Dale Earnhardt. Understanding the difference with a degree of sadness associated with Earnhardt’s death, what is confusing is why people want to retire the number that is closely connected with his legendary career. Earnhardt’s career stands on it’s own within NASCAR history, and there is every reason to believe and trust the No. 3 will stand alongside his name for eternity.
There are those within the family of the No. 3 that understand and appreciate it’s place in the future of the sport. When Austin Dillon brought a championship to the No. 3 in the Truck series last year, there was speculation that one day he would bring the famed number back to the Sprint Cup series. Today, it seems that speculation is closer to reality and Dale Earnhardt Jr says he’d have no issue with that.
“Austin’s ran that number. I just look at it differently,” Earnhardt said as Dillon’s championship run was celebrated at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2011. “I don’t look at the numbers tied to drivers as much as the history of the number. The number is more of a bank that you just deposit history into, and it doesn’t really belong to any individual. Austin’s run that number, and you can’t really deny him the opportunity to run it. It just wouldn’t be fair.”
“Dad did great things,” Earnhardt said. “He was a great ambassador for the sport, and we’re still as a whole reaping the benefits of what he did and what he accomplished. He put us in front of a lot of people. But even before that, the number was Richard’s. Richard drove it; somebody else drove it before then. There’s a lot of guys in the ’50s and ’60s that ran that number with success. …When you put the color and the style with it, it’s a little iconic to the sport.”
“Austin’s a good kid,” Earnhardt said. ” He seems to have a great appreciation for what’s happening to him and what’s going on around him. I would be happy if he wanted to keep – driving the 3. He kind of had to know when he first started running that number – if he got this far into the deal, he would have to cross a few bridges like that. That was a tough decision I guess at first, to start running the number for him, knowing what pressures he might face down the road. But I think it would be fine by me for him to do that. I think it’s got to get back on the race track one of these days. It can’t be gone forever.”
Stenhouse Jr, and the Dillon boys are among several representing a new generation within NASCAR and they all will blaze their own trail within the sport of racing. It’s yet to be determined how bright their stars will shine, because their future will not be determined by the clothes they wear or the number they drive. The significance of their clothes and number will be enhanced by their talent and performance. Just as those before them, it will be what they accomplish on the track that will determine their place within NASCAR’s evolving tradition and history that is yet to be written.