Race Weekend Central

Richard Childress Reflects on Initial Hall of Fame Class, Dale Earnhardt

CONCORD, N.C. – Richard Childress visited the media center at Lowe’s Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon (Oct. 17) to field questions about his nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the selection of Dale Earnhardt to the inaugural class. The press conference was hosted by Winston Kelly, the president of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Childress owned six of the cars that Earnhardt drove to championships and 67 of his career victories.

“I really was surprised because there are so many great pioneers from the sport,” said Childress about his selection among the first 25 Hall nominees. “There were so many people that have accomplished so much. My being picked to be in that first class of 25 is quite humbling and an honor.”

On the people who were chosen as the inaugural class: “I think the choices out of the 25 were phenomenal. They were great choices. You go to Bill France Sr. and all of us wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the things he accomplished. And for his son to come along and be able to move the sort in a totally different direction and carry it to another whole level with his vision. And then you’ve got Junior Johnson who goes back with so much history. And then you go to Richard Petty with his wins and seven championships.

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“And with Dale Earnhardt, I think there was no way you could not pick him, with his accomplishments. Dale was a great race driver; a champion of the sport. He was an ambassador. He carried the sport to a completely different level – from Wall Street to the guy in the factory or the lady in the mills. You know, he could touch anyone. That was one of the greatest things about his career, he never forgot where he came from at all.”

Describing Dale Earnhardt was a difficult question. “I know how I would describe him. I know our relationship. He really, really took his fans very passionately. Everything he wanted on the racetrack, he wanted for them, the fans, and do his best job. He was great to work with. I bet you I could count on one hand the number of disagreements we had and we would work them right out. We knew each other well enough to where I could walk into a room and I would go over and sit down and he would say ‘Alright, what’s on your mind?’ And I could do the same to him.

“We had that kind of relationship. It was very unique, but Dale did a lot for people that you never knew about. He tried to help people out once he reached the point where he could. And he never forgot the people that got him to where he was at. He never forgot where he came from. He had that drive about him. He wanted to win. He said, ‘Man I have to drive so hard because I don’t know if I’ll have a job.’ I thought, you’ll have plenty of jobs.”

About whether Dale Earnhardt would still be behind the wheel of a racecar today if he were still alive: “He would have retired for sure by now. We had talked about it that winter, knowing what his plans were. Kind of what he wanted to do and where he wanted to see his career go. He sort of had his plan and I’ll tell it someday, but not today.”

Speaking of how Earnhardt handled situations of adversity. “Whenever we would go off into a season and not be running very well, we’d really spend a lot of time talking about it. He would say ‘Here is where we have to work as a team better, here is where I need to improve.’ I’ll never forget in 2001 in January, he called me one night from Daytona where he was running the sports cars and said, cause we’d talked earlier going into 2001, we’d finished second in the points in 2000, we felt we had a chance at winning the championship in 2001.

“We’d talked that winter about improving and he’d talked about improving his road racing. He called and said, ‘I’m going to make you a better road racer after this. I’ve learned some things. These guys have helped me out.’ So it wasn’t always about the team. He would be one of these guys that felt the team was all together, and he was the one that was in there trying to fix where we got off. And that is how we would come back the following year and fix it.”

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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