Opinion: Two Sides to the Three
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on December 12, 2013 | 9:00 A.M. EST
There might not be a more divided topic among NASCAR fans than bringing back the No. 3 to the Sprint Cup Series. (Photo: Getty Images)
"When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people; those who let it happen, those who make it happen and those who wonder what happened." – John M. Richardson Jr.
“Those who live in the past are cowards and losers.” – Mike Ditka
As the two quotes above illustrate, there are a number of ways to look at both the past and future.
Several are no doubt racing through many NASCAR fans’ minds in the aftermath of this week’s official announcement that Richard Childress would indeed bring back the No. 3 to the Sprint Cup Series.
Austin Dillon will carry the iconic number into the future after it sitting idle since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. The third generation driver has at least a couple of connections to the digit, being the grandson of Childress and also running the No. 3 during his Nationwide Series and Truck Series careers.
But it won’t make it any easier when the 2014 Sprint Cup rookie hits the track in NASCAR’s top series.
The No. 3 isn’t just a number in the NASCAR world. It’s iconic; a symbol of a time in the sport to many when it seemed everything was right in the world as long as Dale Earnhardt was racing.
There is a disconnect between many of today’s drivers and a large segment of the fan base. Athletes with multi million dollar condos in New York, private jets and huge expensive car collections don’t resonate well with a lot of NASCAR Nation.
While Earnhardt made a fortune during his career, he was still relatable to the sport’s primarily working class following. When he was gone, so were thousands of NASCAR fans.
It’s true NASCAR records show a long list of other drivers – 74 to be exact – that raced with the No. 3 on the side of their cars. Many were ultra-successful including seven Hall of Famers; Junior Johnson, Tim Flock, Cotton Owens, Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Buck Baker and of course Earnhardt.
Childress himself ran the No. 3 during his driving career as did other legends like Buddy Baker, Marvin Panch and Bobby Isaac.
But there is no getting around the indelible connection between Earnhardt and the No. 3.
Some fans have told me they literally burst into tears when the news of the three’s return became official on Wednesday. To them there is no better tribute to Earnhardt’s memory than to see the number back on track at the highest level of the sport.
Others have a different view and believe the No. 3’s return only cheapens Earnhardt’s legacy and tarnishes all the seven-time Sprint Cup Series champion’s amazing accomplishments.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
My sentimental side sees the emotional tie Childress, Dillon and the RCR family have to the No. 3. Their decision to resurrect the number in Austin’s ascension to the Sprint Cup Series is understandable.
But there’s a group of newer fans that have no idea what the fuss is all about and why to some its return is such a big deal. The only Dale Earnhardt this group knows of is named Junior. Is it detrimental for a sport desperately needing to find a younger audience and attract a fresh new audience to keep holding on and dredging up the past?
We should also not dismiss the monetary ramifications of the move. There will no doubt be a large amount of money to be made in merchandising, collectibles and marketing initiatives around the No. 3’s return. In an age when the economic pressures of the sport are taking its toll on a number of teams, RCR can’t be faulted for tapping into this potentially lucrative revenue stream.
NASCAR is fighting a major balancing these days act between maintaining its core audience while finding new fans. Whether or not the return of the number three makes a difference in either goal remains to be seen.
I guess it just depends on how you look at acknowledging the past while embracing the future.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.