Threee!

This was the remarkable sight on the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s death, commemorated at the 2011 Daytona 500, when NASCAR endorsed the unofficial tribute made by fans of #3 ever since that dark day…

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To #3 or not to #3 – that is the question

Hmmm… this one seems to be generating a significant amount of traffic.

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The black #3 of Dale Earnhardt – The Intimidator – remains the most recognisable livery in NASCAR. Alongside Richard Petty’s powder blue #43 it’s one of the enduring icons of top-flight stock car racing and, to millions of people, it has been frozen in time since Earnhardt Sr. met his end at the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now the Richard Childress Racing outfit, with whom Earnhardt and the #3 are inextricably bound, plans to bring that iconic number back to NASCAR’s top level with its young charger, Austin Dillon. This is sparking a LOT of debate among fans. Although many people would be happy to see it back, there’s a vocal lobby – presumably those who have been standing up with three fingers aloft on Lap 3 at the Daytona 500 each and every year.

Outside the USA we don’t tend to sentimentalise numbers. There’s never been any fuss about who carries the #2 in Formula One, despite the virtual canonisation of Ayrton Senna since his death. Or the #19 in sports car racing, carried to his doom by the most electrifying driver of his kind, Stefan Bellof.

Outside NASCAR only the #27 in Formula One has really held – or rather grown – in resonance, since the death of its most famous driver, Gilles Villeneuve. And these days that’s a redundant number in a field of 24 cars, so it’s no longer an issue. In NASCAR, however, the numbers are franchises in themselves. The champion driver doesn’t win the honour of carrying #1. He wins a lot of money and his number becomes better known – and more valuable.

There’s been a widespread misunderstanding that the #3 belongs to Richard Childress Racing and that the team has held the number in some sort of shrine to The Intimidator at the back of the workshop. It doesn’t and it hasn’t.

Teams lease their numbers from NASCAR for a set fee each year. Following the death of Dale Earnhardt, RCR chose not to retain the #3 – putting #29 on the Goodwrench Chevy when it returned in 2001, the number which its driver, Kevin Harvick, has retained ever since (often with a small ‘tribute 3’ next to the large race number).

Yet the #3 has not been silent since February 2001. Far from it. Dale Earnhardt Jr ran the number on his Nationwide cars until 2002. Items carrying #3 outsell virtually all the currently active numbers in terms of NASCAR merchandise and, in 2010, RCR and NASCAR gave the fans exactly what they wanted when Dale Earnhardt Jr climbed aboard an Impala carrying blue and yellow Wrangler sponsorship (as his father’s often did, alongside the black Goodwrench car) and the #3. And won. At Daytona.

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Part of me thinks that this was a toe-in-the-water. A chance to test the public, give the #3 some good vibrations and open the path for a full-time return. Which has now come. Richard Childress’s grandson, Austin Dillon, has shown a hefty amount of talent, winning the 2011 Camping World Truck Series and running at the front of the Nationwide Series – at the wheel of the RCR #3.

ImageDillon has now taken his first win in the Nationwide series and looks set to become a regular in the top league before long – and it’s pretty much a given that he will bring the #3 back up with him. And so the debate goes on: should #3 be brought back or finally retired out of respect for The Intimidator?

Personally, I’d say that RCR is a business and that Earnhardt’s chosen legacy would be the ongoing success of the team that supported him. In what remain hard times for racing, NASCAR teams only thrive if they can grow. RCR has the #27, #29 and #31 but has lost the #33 through the shortage of funds available these days.

A bright young talent at the wheel of the iconic #3 might well do good things for RCR – and in turn for the popularity – and profitability – of NASCAR. Sometimes, race fans, sentiment needs to be saved for when we can afford it.

I need my drinking water. Hey! Give me my drinking water!

Meanwhile, here’s a little something from Kimi Raikkonen last year. Remember when he turned up, was awesome, made Carl Edwards’ eyes come out on stalks with his car control and then disappeared, leaving everyone wondering what was wrong with his drinks bottle?

Thought so. Here’s another gem.

Image“We’re so fucking shit, it’s unbelievable.”

Paint your wagon (part 1)

There are very, very few ways to enjoy NASCAR in an interactive way if you live overseas. You can’t go to the races, the DVDs are all Region 1, the PlayStation games are all NTSC – in short, you pay for the online services from NASCAR.com and that’s about it.

Except for one thing… slot car racing. Here’s a picture of the Falcon Raceway in Essex, UK. This is a purpose-built speedway for racing digital NASCAR slot cars – although you can run them on any kind of track you like.

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There have been a wide range of NASCARs made as 1/32 slot cars from across the eras. If you’re a fan of the ‘Darkside’ then Carrera and Monogram have cars from the late 1950s to the early 1970s to choose from. More recent aero cars from 2000-07 can be found from Scalextric (Superslot in Spain) and SCX (Scalextric in Spain), while Car of Tomorrow cars from 2008-09 were made by Scalextric, SCX and Carrera.

The trouble is that only a handful were ever made. They might not be models of your favourite driver and, even if they are, every driver goes through about half a different paint schemes in any given season. But help is at hand.

In the course of the next few days, I’m going to change this Chevy Impala from Kevin Harvick’s 2008 Shell/Pennzoil #29 car to the 2011 #33 Cheerios entry of Clint Bowyer. With a little bit of work, you can make pretty much any car you like – and then go racing.

Imagelextric, lextric,