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Richard Childress arrives at Auto Club 400 celebrating 50 years in NASCAR

San Bernardino County Sun, Calif. — Louis Brewster San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.

March 12--FONTANA -- It will be rather difficult to miss Richard Childress this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, either in the garage area or on pit road. He'll be the one in Wrangler blue jeans, cowboy boots and a pressed white button-down shirt with a hard-earned emblem signifying his NASCAR career, a bright golden 50.

This year will mark Childress 50th year in the highly competitive world of stock car racing. He's one of a few individuals who has competed as a driver or team owner at the three Southern California tracks that have hosted Cup races: Riverside International Raceway, Ontario Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. His journey in the sport started from selling popcorn and peanuts at a young age at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., to a owner with a 17-building, 52-acre campus in Welcome, N.C.

One of the buildings houses his museum that contains six NASCAR Cup championship trophies -- all won by the late Dale Earnhardt. In addition, there are three Daytona 500 trophies, courtesy of Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon, Childress' grandson.

Richard Childress Racing will field a pair of Chevrolets for Sunday's Auto Club 400 at the Fontana facility. Dillon will drive the No. 3 made famous by Earnhardt for Childress. The other, the No. 8, will steered by rookie of the year candidate Daniel Hemric. Dillon is 21st in the early points race, trailing Kyle Busch by 101, while Hemric is 23rd, 121 points behind.

Childress has a rich NASCAR history. He made 285 Cup starts between 1969 and 1981, including eight full-time seasons. His best finish was third at Nashville in 1978. However, he has had greater success as an owner with 228 wins in NASCAR's three premier series. RCR has won 108 at the Cup level and, in addition to Earnhardt's Cup titles, RCR drivers have captured four Xfinity Series and two Truck Series championships.

"He is dedicated to this sport. He has dedicated his life to it," said Chocolate Myers, who now runs the RCR Museum after a long career as a crew chief. "We got a lot of owners out there who were businessmen who wanted to be owners and do something fun, so they bought a race team and went racing. Richard is a little different.

"He's a racer that became a businessman. He's the only owner I know of that for many, many years, when we went to the track to test, he was under the car, under the hood, inside the gate when we walked in the gate. The backstory is one of the coolest stories in the world. To watch Richard Childress go from a guy who worked in a battery manufacturing plant to a guy who could buy the battery manufacturing plant is pretty cool."

Childress leaves no doubt what he considers his greatest triumph.

"For me, winning the Daytona 500 is one of the most special races you could ever win in your NASCAR career as an owner, driver or crew chief or whatever it is, it's such a special place," Childress said. "To have my grandson win it. ... seeing Dale (Earnhardt) win it, I knew what it meant to him to win the Daytona 500 and be able to get that on his resume, it was something he really wanted. To see Kevin Harvick win in 2007 .... but to see your grandson win was really, really special.

"When I'm asked, I say, nothing's thicker than blood."

Childress has a rich history at Fontana, although not all to his liking.

In 2015, two weeks after the race at ACS, acting on reports teams were purposely deflating their tires to provides more control and grip on the track, NASCAR penalized the Ryan Newman Childress team with a $125,000 fine, a six-race suspension for crew chief Luke Lambert and Newman, and RCR was stripped of 75 points. Upon appeal, the $125,000 fine for Lambert was reduced to $75,000 and the point deductions were reduced to 50, but the suspensions were upheld.

His love of the sport drives his employees.

Andy Petree is RCR vice-president of competition, having returned to the organization after a lengthy departure.

"A lot has changed as far as the sport goes, the technology and what not," said Petree. "The RCR heritage of winning has really never changed."

NASCAR has changed its rules for 2019, but the two RCR drivers aren't that concerned.

"I think there's still some variables on what is the best way to go about this racing," Dillon said. "I think that's the one thing everybody doesn't know. I think in our minds, we've put a lot of work into simulation and wind tunnel and just trying to combine it all to figure out what direction you should go mechanically or aero-wise, to figure out how it's going to race the best.

"So that's the variable we don't know. We saw at Atlanta some guys were really good for a little while and then they faded. We're just trying to figure out the best way to race around each other, because we know we're going to be closer together more often."

Hemric: "Every new opportunity and every new situation you find yourself in, you hope to have that moment sooner than late. Not only personally for myself, to give myself the confidence that I can run with those guys and race with those guys and do it at that level, but also for our team. I feel like every new team needs that spark and that little bit of that drive to know that you're building toward something that can be extremely good."

Louis Brewster can be reached at brewsterl1949@gmail.com.

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