Childress can be found closely monitoring on-track action come race day.
Childress (right) has taken what some may consider to be a more comfortable seat on race d
Childress (left) confers with Dale Earnhardt at a Dover race. The two have proven
Childress (right) and Coo Coo Marlin head to their cars before the World 600.
Chilldress walks away from his race car after a accident at the North Carolina Mo
Childress now has to spend part of his time in the office. The life of a car owner is gett
The Wrangler/Childress Racing Team received the Skoal Motorsports Press Panel "Award of Ex
Childress and his wife (left) join Dale and Teresa Earnhardt at the 1990 champion’s p
Young fans seek Childress’ autograph at Bristol in 1975.
Childress has found it is starting to take more and more people to run a racing operation
The two drivers on Childress’ Winston Cup teams--Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner.
Over the last three decades, Richard Childress has built one of the most successful racing dynasties in NASCAR, but R.C. will be the first to tell you that he is a much better businessman than he ever was a driver.
His entrepreneurial spirit originally surfaced as a teenager selling peanuts at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Childress' hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By the time he was 17, he had earned enough money to buy his first race car--a '47 Plymouth--and soon moved from the bleachers to the race track.
"I was running dirt tracks, Late Models, and asphalt on little tracks all over the South, but my first Winton Cup race--which used to be called the Grand National division--was the boycott race in Talladega," he says.
On September 14, 1969, Childress made it to the big leagues driving his own No. 13 Chevrolet Camaro in the Talladega 500 at the track formerly known as Alabama International Speedway. With 37 drivers withdrawing from the event because of the boycott, Childress was able to enter. He started 26th, but problems with an axle cut his day short on lap 80 and he finished 23rd.
Two years later, Childress returned to NASCAR's Grand National division and ran a limited schedule of 12 races in the No. 96 Tom Garn Chevrolet, but he DNFed in 10 events and finished 46th in points. In 1972, Childress ran his own equipment in 15 races and finished 37th in points, but still posted 12 DNFs.
During 12 years of competition, his best finish in a points race was third in 1978. Around that time, a new kid named Dale Earnhardt started appearing at the track. In 1979, Earnhardt ran his rookie season for Rod Osterlund and, in his 16th start, won his first Winston Cup race. He finished seventh in points and won the rookie-of-the-year title that season. The following year, Earnhardt won five races and the championship.
However, after 16 races into the '81 season, Osterlund went bankrupt, so Earnhardt was looking for a ride. In the interim, he ran four races for Jim Stacy, but on August 16th, 1981, he took over the driving duties for Childress and their relationship began.
"When Dale drove the first 10 races for me in '81, that showed me I needed to be running a race team instead of driving," Childress says. At the end of the season, Earnhardt left to run with the more established team of Bud Moore. In 60 races, the former champion posted three wins, but also logged 31 DNFs. Ricky Rudd ran for Childress in Earnhardt's absence. When the Intimidator became available again, there was no doubt who would drive the No. 3 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt won his first race for Childress 19 races later at Talladega and the team finished fourth in points. By 1986 they won their first of six championships together. "He's been a good friend," says Earnhardt, who has won 62 races since coming to RCR. "We get along real well together. We understand each other and we want the same thing, which is to run good and win. He's got a lot of determination and he's willing to do whatever it takes to be competitive."
Richard Childress Racing has been a dominant force throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s, when the No. 3 team won four championships in five years. From 1993 to 1996, Andy Petree was the crew chief of the team. "Working for Childress was like having an education on how it should be done," Petree says. "He's been very successful. I worked for Leo Jackson for quite a few years and he taught me a lot about how to run a team and the inner workings of a team, but Childress showed me how to win.
"We won races with Harry (Gant) too, but winning championships and how to handle success is something he helped me with. He is a great businessman and he's still very in touch with the race team and he has maintained that throughout the years. He still keeps a close eye on his race cars." For the last few years, Childress has backed away from micromanaging the No. 3 team, but the results showed that RC is missed.
"I've been a hands-on guy, but the last three or four years I've gotten away from it, because I have other business interests," Childress says. "I was burned out. But I feel I have other people capable of doing my job. I've been fortunate to have the people I have working for me. Still, we've been having more and more meetings and talking more and I'm still trying to stay involved with the team as much as I possibly can. I believe in giving people responsibility and letting them carry it, but I'm there to help them if they need me."
As RCR moves into the 21st century, look for Childress to expand once again. Although he will probably disband his NASCAR Craftsman Truck team at the end of this season, it is likely he will replace it with a Busch Grand National team and even possibly a third Winston Cup operation. "We don't know yet what the outcome will be for our truck team next season," Childress says. "The truck series is still a good series, but the cost of running in it has become extremely high. It is a very expensive series to run and it wasn't the first two or three years. That's when it was a good series for us.
"But the format of the races has completely changed. There are pit stops now and the races are longer. Now we're going to California twice a year, Portland, Texas...the travel schedule for the truck series now is very expensive." After investing five years in the truck series and not reaping many benefits, like any good businessman, Childress will cash out, write off his losses, and move on to something more lucrative, i.e., Winston Cup or Busch. Childress has had several sponsorship offers to start a third team and, with Jack Roush's operation having expanded to five teams, Rick Hendrick maintaining three teams, and Joe Gibbs adding a second Busch series car that will mature into a Winston Cup deal, the time is right to grow again.
"I feel what's driving this multi-car team thing is the sheer economics of racing today," Childress admits. "The cost of operating a Winston Cup team today is astronomical compared to just two to three years ago. You can't take one race team and bottom line your research and your aerodynamics and your front office and airplanes and everything it takes to get us where we can do what we need to do. It just kills the bottom line for one race team. If you start to divide your research and development by two race teams, and your management, then it starts making more sense. You can do more to make your team more competitive."
That's one of the reasons Childress, Petree and Earnhardt developed RAD (an acronym using the initials from their first names)--an alliance between the three teams headed by former Ford engineer Louis Duncan. Through wind tunnel and on-track testing, as well as computer simulation, the teams have been able share the information and improve their on-track performances. Kevin Hamlin, crew chief of the No. 3 car, appreciates the lengths Childress goes to to keep his organization competitive. "I admire Richard because he started with nothing and built this thing to where it is today," Hamlin says. "Through that time he's learned all the things that really matter. He's always thinking of the next innovation and what's going to happen in the future. He understands this deal from the bottom on up because he is a racer. He's not just some businessman who doesn't understand why everything doesn't go right all the time and that really helps, but he also understands that racing is very expensive." According to Childress, "Economics is what's driving these team owners to do more race teams. I don't know if NASCAR realizes the increase in costs that we face today as car owners."
He has several avenues he is exploring in search of acquiring additional income for his race teams. The most pressing issue at hand is the return that teams will receive from the new television rights package NASCAR is putting together with the networks. Currently, the teams take home 25 percent of the profits, but Childress would like to see more. "It's really something I need to discuss directly with NASCAR and not the media. I think there should be more changes, but I don't think talking to the media is the way to get those changes. Something has to be adjusted to keep the car owners in here. I think they are looking at ways to help the car owner out, but I think it will take a little to get it right."
Then, there is the ongoing discussion of franchising and even, perhaps, the possibility of Childress someday building or investing in his own track in the near future. "I've been in with a group that is looking at some race tracks, and I've talked with some people about building some race tracks, though I'd prefer not to say who," Childress continues. "But then I see a single-track owner having a tougher time than a multi-track owner in terms of promotional dollars and public money available. A single-track owner has it much tougher. "Of course, the fans are going to come no matter where you build on. We could schedule a race in the Lowe's (Motor Speedway) parking lot and you would see the race fans pour in."
Yet, if Childress decided to build a track in a market like Denver, he'd be closer to his ranch in Montana and his second love--game hunting. At 53, although Childress is far from considering retirement, he would like to enjoy the fruits of his labor while he is still young. "I'm going to sell the whole damn thing and move to Montana," Childress jokes, but then realizes what he has said and asks to have the last statement erased from the record for fear of more wild rumors circulating through the garage. "I always want to own a Winston Cup race team. I always want to be involved in racing, but I want to have the flexibility to say, 'Hey, y'all run this thing for two weeks. I'll be in Montana or Africa or British Columbia. And don't call me on the cell phone!'"
But one gets the impression Childress needs racing like a junkie needs a fix and the venerable racer will never be far from a race track. He will continue to build Richard Childress Racing and hopefully win the team's seventh Winston Cup championship with his driver and hunting buddy, Dale Earnhardt.
"We've got a contract with Dale through the year 2000, and this is the year we start talking about what we want to do to go forward," Childress says.
D department with more people and more hours and more projects. We've hired two new engineers since last year and they're really putting a lot into our program. We've completely changed our fabrication shop around. I'm real high on the things we've done and the results are showing. I think you'll see it the rest of the year." Still, with Earnhardt two years away from turning 50, and Skinner turning 42 this year, Childress has to consider what his driver options will be for the future.
"We are definitely looking at some younger drivers, and talking to them," Childress says. "Again, I haven't ruled out a third Cup team. We were real close to doing a third Cup team, but I don't feel I have these two Cup teams where I want them yet." Childress has a certain criteria the teams must meet before he expands. Too frequently he has seen other teams get bitten by the law of diminishing returns. "Last year, Jeff Burton's team was really good, but it's been erratic this year," he says. "The competition is so close that if you're on, you're on, and if you're off, you're 25th. If we had ended the season last year with both teams in the top 10, and if we'd come out this year with both cars in the top 10 right now, and everything was flowing pretty good, I would have looked at the possibility of a third team, but by laying the responsibility of the 2000 Monte Carlo on top of all this, we'd have been looking at having to build 30 to 35 new cars for next year, where now we only need to build 20-some."
It was RCR, along with Hendrick Motorsports, where GM came to build the new Monte Carlo, and they're not the only heavy hitters who come to him for advice. Over the years, Childress and Earnhardt have been regular visitors to the NASCAR trailer to offer their opinions to Bill France Sr., Bill Jr., and now Mike Helton--a relationship which has mutually benefitted both parties. "I've been involved and have seen a lot happen in this sport from 1969 to 1999," says Childress. "I've seen everything from the boycott to the first [awards banquet at] Waldorf-Astoria and the Brickyard--all the positives. I've seen so much over the last 30 years and there are still great times ahead. I just hope Richard Childress Racing is around in 30 years. I don't think I'll still be pushing it then, but I'd like to at least show up on Sundays."