The No. 3 Wont Be Retired
February 23, 2001 | 10:00 A.M. EST
In this case, the show is Sunday’s Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway, but the main character – Dale Earnhardt - is no longer with us because of his untimely death last Sunday on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
In a series of press conferences on Friday at Rockingham, members of Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR and DEI talked about how racing will carry on following the death of perhaps the greatest driver in the sport’s history.
Childress – who owned Earnhardt’s car - also said NASCAR will not retire Earnhardt’s No. 3.
Earnhardt’s car will be at Rockingham, but it will be a white No. 29 Chevrolet as opposed to the familiar black No. 3. The driver will be Kevin Harvick, who will compete in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series the remainder of the year for Childress.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said Childress. “Dale and I talked about what we would do if something happened to one of us. Dale and I are both racers, and we made the pledge that we’d go on. That’s what Dale would have wanted.”
During the announcement, Harvick, who had planned to race only a seven-race Winston Cup schedule in order to maintain his 2002 rookie status, will drive in both divisions when there isn’t a conflicting schedule. The America Online sponsored car that Harvick was supposed to be driving this year in Winston Cup, according to Childress, will be filled by a yet-to-be-determined driver.
It still remains unclear what will happen when the Winston Cup and Busch Series schedules conflict.
“We’re going to try and run every race with the No. 2 (Busch Series) and the No. 29 car,” Childress said. “It’s going to be tough, but we owe it to all the guys on the team and all the sponsors.”
Harvick was in a somber mood Friday.
“This is understandably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Harvick said. “But then again, nobody ever said this was going to be easy. This is what Dale would want to happen. It’s going to be tough, but this is a tough team. Dale Earnhardt is the best ever in NASCAR, and I hope people don’t expect me to replace him because I never will.
“I grew up watching Dale race since I was 5, and he’d want me to drive his car. He’d want me to drive the hell out of it.”
Despite the fact Earnhardt helped attract more fans to the sport than any other driver, Childress said NASCAR would stick with tradition and not retire the No. 3.
“NASCAR said they didn’t retire numbers,” Childress said, who noted the sanctioning body would put the number on a moratorium for the 2001 season before it could return next year.
Also in attendance on Friday was Mike Skinner, Earnhardt’s former teammate at RCR.
“This is devastating because Dale and I had a lot of mutual respect for each other,” Skinner said. “I wasn’t his best friend and he wasn’t mine, but he was the best driver to ever sit behind the wheel of a race car, and nobody can deny that. No one can ever fill the shoes of Dale Earnhardt, but me and Kevin Harvick can learn from each other and do real well.”
In another press conference, DEI team members - including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip and Steve Park - thanked those in the racing community for their outpouring of support.
“It’s just been a tough time," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I have a lot of questions and a lot of things are running around in my mind, but our main focus is to try to maintain and enhance the vision my father had with DEI to the best of my ability.
“I do want to say that any notion or idea or any blame placed on anyone, whether it be Sterling Marlin or anyone else for that matter, is ridiculous, and will not be tolerated. I just think it’s completely incredible some of the things that I’ve heard and have been told about.
“One of the things this teaches you is how selfish you are about things like this. I miss my father. I’ve cried for him, but out of my own selfish pity. I just try to maintain a good focus for the future and try to remember that he’s in a better place, a place we all want to be.”
Waltrip and Park focused more on getting back into routine.
"Being back at the race track is a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for our crew," Waltrip said. "It’s a good thing for our family. When we walked into the garage area, and we were back in our element. We were doing the things we’ve done for so long. I’m glad we’re here. I think it’s going to help get the healing process on down the road a bit further."
“It’s going to start the healing process for us to get back out on the race track and do what we love to do, and not blame anybody," Park said. "I think Richard Petty said it the best when Adam passed away. He said, 'God doesn’t end someone’s life with a question mark. He ends it with a period.'
"We all need to go on and not question His doings. I know I’m a lot happier to be at the race track and starting to put this behind us.”