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Richard Childress: Business, Speed And Success Through The Years

Richard Childress Celebrating at Indy with Tyler Reddick (Photo: Stephen Conley |TPF)
Richard Childress Celebrating at Indy with Tyler Reddick (Photo: Stephen Conley |TPF)

Richard Childress celebrates the 2022 Verizon 200 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Tyler Reddick. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

As NASCAR celebrates 75 years of racing, only a handful have been around for all or most of it.

Formed in 1969, Richard Childress Racing was born out of a driver’s strike that left William (Big Bill) France Sr. looking for drivers to race at Talladega. Childress would jump in a car and build his career in the No. 96 car until 1976 when he wanted to honor the legend of Junior Johnson and put the No. 3 on his racecars.

Despite not finding Victory Lane as a driver, Richard Childress took those humble beginnings and built not only a successful race team that still competes today, but brought about a legend on the track in Dale Earnhardt.

Everyone today knows the story of Earnhardt and the loss that was suffered in 2001. But what many do not know is the impact that nearly had on the future of RCR.

Childress was forced into a major decision. He needed his race team to carry on where he had hundreds of employees counting on him and sponsors that were committed for the entire year.

How did longtime partner, GM Goodwrench, feel about the change of bringing Kevin Harvick, a rookie, into the fold?

“Well, I had to go to all the existing sponsors that we had on the car that Dale was driving, and we talked to all of them. Every one of them agreed to stick with us and go through that year.” Childress said.

While that fixed 2001, what was the future going to be?

That is when some of the biggest discussions would lead to Richard Childress Racing being able to carry on.

Kyle Busch takes his 2nd win for RCR in Talladega. (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

Kyle Busch takes his 2nd win for RCR in Talladega. (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

Childress would go on to say that the negotiations had some ups and downs.

“We renegotiated with some of them, others moved on,” he said. “Some of them were good for the next year and, you know, Kevin was a good spokesman and a good driver and he gave us a chance to win.”

And win they did.

“We go out and win the third race with him and that made the team a lot easier to sell”, Childress said.

That win wasn’t just a big boost for his team and their future.

“It was big for the fans, there were a few moments in 2001 that helped them heal, not all the way, but moments like Kevin’s win, Dale Jr. in Daytona, and even Steve Park’s deal that he was running,” he said. “It wasn’t a complete healing process for everyone as you can not replace Dale.”

Trying to replace a legend is not possible, but continuing to give the fans something to cheer for in place of that legend is what Childress and the rest of RCR needed to do.

And the first thing was to keep going.

After that night in Daytona, Childress told his wife, Judy, “We’re out of racing. I was going to leave and get done and do something else.”

But Childress said he thought a moment. It was a moment that took him back to one of his and Earnhardt’s favorite times together – hunting.

“I thought about a pact that Dale and I made during our time hunting in New Mexico. And I knew then I had to go on,” he said.

That pact was a promise to continue racing, no matter if something happened to either of them.

For Childress, that was the moment he knew it was time to jump back in and carry on his team, but the business of running a race team is never easy. For Childress, he had done it for so long, he knew that he had good people in place to continue to build the organization.

One thing about running a race team is needing to have deep pockets. The cost has continued to go up year after year. Even as NASCAR has tried to work with teams on reducing the cost of racing, millions and millions of dollars are still needed to keep a team on track.

But, is NASCAR still profitable for teams and owners? Richard Childress is 77 and he knows he cannot do it forever.

Other owners in NASCAR like Rick Hendrick is 73 while Joe Gibbs is 82 and Jack Roush is 81.

To continue to grow the sport, they will need new owners to join the sport, and profitability has to be considered. NASCAR tried to lower costs with this new car, but that did not exactly go as planned according to Childress.

“You know, with this new car, it ended up costing all of us a lot more than we ever thought it would,” he said. “There were different costs and the saving points haven’t happened. So, we’ve got some challenges. But it’s like everything when you have a challenge, you’ve got to find the fix for it.”

Kyle Busch takes his 2nd win for RCR in Talladega. (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

Kyle Busch takes his 2nd win for RCR in Talladega. (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

Teams continue to work to find more speed which always costs extra money. So, with the new car and the limited amount of things teams can work on in the rule book, it is more challenging than ever for R&D and the expenses add up.

So, the profitability for race teams is not something teams are seeing according to Childress.

“The profits are not there today, but I think there are ways that if we get the right situation with NASCAR, it’s going to be good,” he said.

With the additional costs of the sport, and the challenges of finding sponsors that can put up the money that a race team needs to run each week here in the US, how can they possibly look at running internationally, which has been on NASCAR’s radar for a while, and seems to more prominent now than ever?

Does the owner of a multicar team think international racing is the right way to go now, and can it be worked into the current business plan?

“Well, I think the idea is good. But, I think what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to race here in America right now,” he said.

Richard Childress' Grandson Austin Dillon continues to show speed in the 3 car (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | TPF)

Richard Childress’ Grandson Austin Dillon continues to show speed in the 3 car (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | TPF)

One of the biggest things that NASCAR and the teams need to do right now is get this new car a few more years on it, and understand how to balance the development and cost.

“You know, we’ve got another year or two to get this car going and to get it worked out,” Childress said. “We’re gaining every race on making it a better car. And I think there is a time that we’re going to have to look at going forward with maybe international.”

For Childress, international racing is not something he is unfamiliar with especially with NASCAR’s postseason races from 1996 to 1998 and 2005 to 2008.

“I went to Japan both times and Mexico. So, I mean, there’s a feel and understanding of how to do it,” he said.

So, could NASCAR see itself loading up and going overseas? Maybe a companion event with F1? We will have to see on that, but if it is up to Richard Childress, it will not be in the next couple of years.

One of the other big business discussions NASCAR team owners must have surrounds charters. Charters, an assured entry into a race, are precious and expensive, especially for new teams.

Moreover, a charter does more than assure a spot in the race for a team. It is how a team can go to a sponsor and mention how they are guaranteed to get into a race. But, with the limit on charters, it makes a challenge for new team owners.

Does the limit hurt the growth potential of the sport?

“No, it doesn’t hurt the growth of the sport,” he said. “You know, it’s just the value that a team owner has put into the sport themselves. We put billions of dollars into the sport every year and that’s the way for us to build some equity in our business is with the charter.”

So, even with a limit on charters, as a business owner, this is how they build that equity and continue to make it profitable and make way for growth in the sport. New team owners that want to purchase a charter will have to come to the table with a lot of cash and a willingness to make deals in the future.

On the driver’s side of sponsorship, many will come to the table with a sponsor and money to get into the car. Fans talk about this frequently and point out how too many young drivers have mom and dad’s money and can buy a seat, even without the talent to win.

In Childress’ case, he points out how drivers have brought sponsors in.

“We’ve had them do that before, but we want drivers that can win,” he said.

Austin Dillon Takes Andy's Frozen Custard for a ride in Atlanta (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

Austin Dillon Takes Andy’s Frozen Custard for a ride in Atlanta (Photo: Stephen Conley | TPF)

So, Childress may have sponsors coming with drivers. But, at RCR, money or not, you better be able to win.

Speaking of winning, RCR’s newest driver has brought talent, tons of wins, and the ability to keep winning, which he has already shown here in 2023. Kyle Busch has been an instant success under the RCR banner, but how has he impacted the team and sponsor search so far?

“He’s already brought a lot to RCR, and I’m excited about the future of what we can do,” Childress said. “I think the second time around, we’re all still learning each other, working with each other, and with Kyle going out, winning at California right off the bat.

“And we both had good runs at the Clash. We had the Daytona 500. You never can look back in history, but we were sitting there with a good chance of winning until the caution came out. And but, we’ve got some, really good things going and having Kyle there.”

Busch, who won his second race of 2023 at Talladega, showcases how momentum is on the side of his No. 8 team and RCR organization

“It’s been a big, big boost to the entire organization,” Childress said.

Winning certainly makes it easy to sell sponsorship. As Kyle Busch continues to win, Austin Dillon has shown a lot of speed in 2023 with longtime supporter Bass Pro Shops.

One thing that is not a big concern is wondering where the funding will come from for either of their drivers. The business side of racing takes up a majority of the time for Richard Childress, but he has a business and hobby on the side.

The Richard Childress Winery in Lexington, North Carolina is a thriving business, supplying some of the best wine around the country. Moreover, a stressful day at the track can be lightened with time at the winery.

“Yes, I love the winery. I love going up there in the evenings.” Childress said. “We built that winery with a really good plan and situation. My daughter runs it and we’ve got a top-end winemaker.”

The winery, which continues to thrive, is worth a stop for any NASCAR fan, even if you are not a big wine drinker.

“We got a lot of positive going on. I’m just now building a 32,000-square-foot production building, so we’re continuing to move forward,” he said.

Above all else, Childress and his race team have seen the highest of highs,and lowest of lows over some 54 years. Then again, he has certainly built a legacy.

Part of that is the drivers he has moved through his teams and the employees that have grown through the years.

What does Childress want his team’s legacy to be? What does he hope people will remember 50 years from now when talking about NASCAR and Richard Childress Racing?

“Over the 50-some years we’ve been involved, we’ve helped bring some excitement for the fans and the drivers,” he said. “We’ve brought in a lot of new drivers. A lot of them are here today in different teams. And I think that I just want people to know that we try to make an impact.”

Ultimately, it is an impact that will be carried on for years to come.

If it races, I'll write about it, talk about it or shoot it with a camera. I began pursuing a career in motorsports journalism immediately after attending college at Kent State University. I have hosted multiple Motorsports talk shows, worked in Country Music radio, and now i spend every day on the air in the morning with 1300 and 100.9 WMVO and in the afternoons watching the roadways around Central Ohio for 93.7 WQIO. The excitement and the fans make everything I put out there worth while, it's been an exciting 15 years having covered everything from the Daytona 500 to the Rolex 24 and you can find me at pretty much any event run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. What I like to bring is a look behind the scenes, a look at what and who makes the sport grow. From the guy that welds pieces back at the shop to the host in the tv booth. Everyone has a story and I like to tell it. My main focus here at TPF is looking at the men and women behind the microphone and cameras. My life long goal is to become a member of MRN or PRN Radio and bring the races to you. I hope that what I share now is enjoyable and gives you a unique look in to the world of motorsports. See you at a track soon




    Brian Hunter

    May 21, 2023 at 9:53 pm

    Richards wife’s name is Judy not Linda. Linda was Richard’s late sisters name. Family members called his wife Kay since Richards late brother Larry’s wife was also named Judy

  2. Rob Tiongson

    May 22, 2023 at 10:13 am

    Brian, thank you for the correction on this. Appreciate you reading Stephen’s article and interview with Childress.

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