Childress Finds His Focus

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HAMPTON, Ga. – These have not been easy times for Richard Childress.

When Dale Earnhardt died in an accident Feb. 18 in the Daytona 500, not only did the NASCAR Winston Cup Series multicar team owner lose arguably the greatest driver in the history of the sport, but he also lost his best friend.

Fans have felt Earnhardt’s loss. Obviously Earnhardt’s family has suffered, as has everyone at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Childress is certainly no different when it comes to grieving for the racing legend.

So, understandably, after Kevin Harvick’s thrilling first career Winston Cup victory Sunday in the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Childress was a man left with mixed emotions.

Torn between wanting to jump up and down and celebrate for Harvick – who won in only his third career Winston Cup start as a replacement in Earnhardt’s car – and remembering his fallen buddy, Childress could only cry and could barely speak after the photo finish with Jeff Gordon.

A television reporter tried to interview Childress, but the words simply wouldn’t come. Childress could only look upwards to the heavens and smile, a tear streaming behind his dark colored glasses. His thoughts turned to his former driver and friend, as if to say ‘this one’s for you (Earnhardt), buddy.’

“With everything that’s happened to this race team since Daytona, it’s been an emotional deal for all of us,” Childress said. “It’s been the toughest thing we’ve all been through. It was just a very emotional deal. I didn’t think I was very emotional, but I guess I’ve found out lately how soft I really am.”

Childress is not alone in his sentiments, as Earnhardt’s death has made some of the toughest drivers, teams and fans take a long and hard look at life itself.

Our heroes aren’t supposed to leave us in such an abrupt manner.

“We still have one thing in mind, and that’s that we’re racing hard for one reason right now, and that’s to do the very best we can in Dale’s memory,” said Kevin Hamlin, Earnhardt’s former crew chief and now the crew chief for the 25-year-old Harvick. “We did a lot of planning this winter to try and make this team a little better than we were last year.

“We thought we had a pretty good shot at the championship last year, so we had high hopes for this season and then disaster struck. Now we’re having to regroup a little bit.”

Harvick was emotional Sunday at Atlanta for two reasons. His victory was a big step in helping to heal the hearts of Childress, Hamlin and the rest of the GM Goodwrench team. He was also in a mild state of shock for getting to victory lane so quickly in his Winston Cup career.

“I took an extra lap afterwards to get the emotional part out of the way,” Harvick said in reference to his backwards lap around the track with window net down and three fingers held high in reference to Earnhardt. “Pulling into victory lane and seeing all those guys who put their arms out and supported me through probably one of the hardest times of our lives was really special, too.

“The fans, the people – it wouldn’t have been like it was, without them. The guys on the Goodwrench team have made it a whole lot easier on me. Without them, Kevin Harvick wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

The relationship between Earnhardt and Childress transcended the sport of stock-car racing. Not only did it stand the test of time, through the good times and the bad, it was a symbol for other car owners and drivers to live by.

Now, Childress is just trying to move on, though he says there will never be a day that passes in his life when he doesn’t think of the good times he had over the years with Earnhardt.

“We've got a lot of hurdles to cross with this race team,” Childress said. “Our goal and Dale's goal was to win the championship this year, but now we’re going to have to take it race by race. Dale would have wanted us to go on like we have, and that’s what we’re doing."

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