July 16, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
There have been a lot of car numbers used in NASCAR over the years, but none have become as iconic as the stylized 3 that was made famous by Dale Earnhardt.
There are a variety of opinions regarding whether or not it should appear on the track again. Some believe emphatically that under no circumstance should it be driven again, while others believe that it could be under certain conditions, such as with someone named Earnhardt behind the wheel. Still others believe that it's just a number that's no different than any other that's been used throughout history and have no problem with seeing it on another car.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., drove the number to Victory Lane in the Nationwide Series a few years ago on a specially designed replica of one of his father's cars. He stated after the race that would be the last time he drove a car with that number on it, unless it were during the twilight of his career. He also has said that he doesn’t have a problem with anyone else driving the number.
And the 3 has been driven in the Truck Series and the Nationwide series with Richard Childress' grandson Austin Dillon behind the wheel, but has yet to reappear on the track during a Sprint Cup race. However, that may happen sooner rather than later should Childress choose to move his grandson to the Sprint Cup Series.
"I look at the 3 as a family. I drove it. I didn’t do near as good as these drivers did. It’s special because you have so many fans that want to see the 3, and then you have some that question running the 3," Richard Childress was quoted as saying. "I wouldn’t let anyone else other than an Earnhardt or a Dillon drive the 3."
Yet is the No. 3 any different from any other number, such as the 6, 9, 21, or 43? Any fan of the sport can tell instantly which great drivers are associated with those numbers, even though some of them have driven different numbers throughout their careers.
Fans don't put bumper stickers of their favorite driver's name on their vehicles, they put the driver's number. Anyone that sees a 48 or 24 going down the road on a window instantly knows which driver is that person's favorite. So in NASCAR, the car number is everything.
The No. 43 of Richard Petty would be a close second to the No. 3, but even it hasn't reached the stature that Earnhardt's number did. Although Petty made the number famous, more than forty different drivers have piloted the 43 around the track.
Other legends besides Earnhardt have driven the No. 3. Junior Johnson drove it during the early 1960's, and Richard Childress and Ricky Rudd have driven it.
However, both the 3 and 43 have reached legendary status. Is there a better to honor those legends than by seeing those car numbers on the track or should they be removed from competition?
Despite all of the history over the years, NASCAR has never retired a number and doesn’t plan on doing so anytime soon.
Regardless, Dale Earnhardt will forever be linked to that number. In this case, the No. 3 has become synonymous with one man.
Many believe that it was Dale Earnhardt Sr., who made NASCAR into what it is today. When that fact is added to his accomplishments behind the wheel, is that reason enough for NASCAR to retire the number?
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.