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Published on July 13th, 2010 | by Michael J Smith


Dillon Will Never Be More Than ‘Driver Of The 3’

In a 10-day span, we saw Dale Earnhardt Jr drive the No. 3 Wrangler Chevy to victory lane in the Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeño 250 at Daytona International Speedway and we saw Austin Dillon, grandson of owner Richard Childress, drive the black No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy to victory lane in the Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 at Iowa Speedway.

As I watched Dale Jr drive that famed No. 3 to the front and take the checkered flag, I was emotional. It was an incredible sight to see a man who has been scrutinized so heavily due to his lackluster results in the Sprint Cup Series go out and honor his father with a win. More impressive when you consider that he hasn’t won a Nationwide Series race in four years. Everything seemed right with the NASCAR world.

Fast-forward 10 days…

As I watched Austin Dillon take the checkered flag in the famed No. 3, I wasn’t emotional. I wasn’t connected to it. As a matter of fact, I felt more upset than anything else.

I have nothing against Austin Dillon — I don’t know much about him. Nor do I have anything against Richard Childress deciding to let his grandson run the legendary number — it’s his number to use as he sees fit, and it’s the number he drove before Dale Sr drove it.

But something about seeing someone not named Earnhardt drive the No. 3 in one of NASCAR’s top three series didn’t feel right — seeing that person drive to victory made it even more unsettling.

If Dale Sr retired, I wouldn’t be writing this column. If he had passed on due to natural causes, I wouldn’t be writing this. But he didn’t. He died doing what he loved, in a car that he made famous, at a track that he battled through his entire career. And that makes his connection to the No. 3 special. In some ways, it’s more than just a number.

And, putting Austin Dillon in a truck with that number is like putting a target on his back. It’s almost ensuring that he will never be judged as Austin Dillon. I don’t think he’ll ever be able to get out of that number’s shadow.  

David Newton, of ESPN, wrote in a column:

Let Dillon be Dillon, not Dillon the driver of the 3. If Richard Childress wants his grandson in the 3, then let him be without all the Earnhardt hubbub. … He’s just carrying on the family tradition that began when Childress took the number in 1976 and drove it for six years before turning it over to Earnhardt late in the 1981 season.

Again, I think the Childress should use the number as he sees fit. He has the rights to it. But, given the way Dale Earnhardt Sr died, and his seemingly eternal connection to that number, it seems certain that anyone running the number not named Earnhardt will forever be known as “driver of the 3.”

Why would Childress want that for his grandson?

At this point, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal. Seeing a No. 3 — a black No. 3 — in the Camping World Truck Series is not like seeing one in the Nationwide Series or the Sprint Cup Series. Seeing a truck with the famed three on the track doesn’t elicit the same kind of emotion that seeing a car with that number on the track will.

And, if Dillon doesn’t perform up to that number’s reputation, it’s sure to subject him to more scrutiny than any rookie that’s come before him. Again, why would Childress want that kind of pressure for his grandson?

I hope at some point Childress will realize that the No. 3 is a liability more than it is an asset, and will decide to run Dillon in another number. If he doesn’t, I think Dillon will always be “driver of the 3.”

So, if in the future Childress decides to run Dillon in the No. 3 in N’Wide or Cup, Dillon will not be judged on his own merits, as Newton hopes. He never will as long as he has that number.  He’ll always be “driver of the 3.”

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of

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About the Author

Michael J. Smith is a NASCAR enthusiast and blogger. In addition to founding this website, Michael is a journalist with over a decade of experience writing for prestigious media organizations.

6 Responses to Dillon Will Never Be More Than ‘Driver Of The 3’

  1. Diane says:

    You expressed my feelings better than I could. It is just very hard to see someone other than an Earnhardt driving that number. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it comes close to infidelity.

  2. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting, Diane.

    I agree. Without judging Richard Childress for deciding to run his grandson in the No. 3, it is hard to watch someone not named Earnhardt run that number. It’s nothing against Austin Dillon or Richard Childress. It just seems that the No. 3 is just too big for anyone not named Earnhardt.

    I think that the same reason Dale Earnhardt Jr doesn’t want to run that number — the magnitude of it and the pressure — is the same reason Richard Childress shouldn’t run it for anyone.

    Again, thanks for reading and for commenting.

  3. john green says:

    Just because you relate the 3 to
    Earnhardt dosen’t mean it belongs to him, he was one of my friends but when I was a kid Junior Johnson ran the 3 and he was also a hero and later a friend of mine, so it’s not the number it’s your own memory

  4. Richard in N.C. says:

    I’m not sure, has anyone else ever run the 3 in a Truck race? I am an Ironhead fan, but I also remember when RC ran the 3 before he quit driving. For gosh sake, Austin is running his grandfather’s number and in a series in which I don’t recall Earnhardt ever racing. I guess you have to have something to criticize.

  5. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting, John.

    I do agree with you, the number does not belong to Earnhardt. That’s why I said in my posting that Richard Childress has the right to run the number as he sees fit. I don’t have a problem with that.

    With that said, it still doesn’t sit right with me because of the way Earnhardt Sr passed in that car, forming an eternal connection with it. But, that doesn’t really matter either.

    My point was, no matter what Austin Dillon does in the No. 3, there are several Earnhardt fans out there that will either dislike him and Richard Childress for letting someone who is not an Earnhardt run it, or they will expect Dillon to live up to Dale Sr’s reputation behind the wheel of that car. Either way, that’s a lot of scrutiny and pressure to put on a kid right out of the box, and I think to some extent that’s what Childress is doing if he leaves Dillon in that car.

  6. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Richard.

    I said in my posting that Austin Dillon running the No. 3 in the truck series isn’t likely to elicit the same response seeing him run the No. 3 in Nationwide or Sprint Cup would. So I agree with you there.

    I also don’t have a problem with Richard Childress running the No. 3 — it’s his number to do with as he sees fit. I also know the connection the Childress family has to the number.

    My point was, and still is, that putting Dillon in the No. 3 in N’Wide or Sprint Cup will subject him to unecessary scrutiny by Earnhardt Sr fans who either don’t like that he’s running that number, or who expect him to run well in the No. 3 — up to Dale Sr’s reputation. My question is, why would you put a driver through that?

    I’m not arguing whether or not it’s right or wrong. I’m asking why put that pressure on Dillon?

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