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It all began with a $1,000 payment for a race he wasn’t even supposed to run.
On the eve of Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary season, we sat down with the man behind what’s now one of the biggest, most storied organizations in NASCAR history for a look back at the past half century and a look ahead at the 2019 season. Find out how Richard Childress got started as a team owner, what keeps him returning to the track year after year, and why he believes the RCR-Caterpillar partnership — now in its 11th year — continues to be so successful.
You launched RCR in a rather interesting way back in 1969. Tell fans who aren’t familiar with that story how you got your start.
Childress: I’d been racing short track since about 1965. In 1969, we built a car and went to Talladega to race on a Saturday. The next day, the Grand National cars boycotted, so they paid us $1,000 a piece to stay over and race on Sunday, too. That was more money than I’d ever seen. I came back home, built a shop and a garage, and met with an attorney to incorporate. That’s how RCR came to be.
Looking back over 50 years of racing, what would you say are RCR’s biggest accomplishments?
Childress: How do you narrow it down? Our first win with Ricky Rudd at Riverside. Our first championship with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1986. Dale winning the Daytona 500 in 1998. Those are just a few of the things that stand out as I look back over our history. I’ve been fortunate to have great people to work with here at RCR.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in racing since 1969? What hasn’t changed?
Childress: Safety is the biggest change, for sure. The cars have gotten so much safer since I was driving back in the 1960s and ’70s. The next biggest thing would be the technology. And of course, racing on live national TV and bringing in big sponsors like Caterpillar really changed NASCAR. What hasn’t changed is the drive of the competitors and the love of the fans for the sport. Those things will always be there.
RCR and Caterpillar have been partners for a decade now. Did you have any ties to the company before that?
Childress: I had a D8 dozer, a 955 loader, a 320 excavator and a backhoe. You name it, I had it and I still have it. I cleared a 200-acre farm with Cat® equipment. I think that’s why RCR resonated so well with Cat customers, because I ran the machines myself. Caterpillar is known for quality and reliability, and that’s what I’ve had out of my equipment. We’ve been fortunate to visit a lot of Caterpillar’s facilities over the past 10 years, and everything I’ve seen has reinforced what I knew about the company and why I use Cat and no other brand.
RCR is celebrating 50 years in 2019, and in 2020 Caterpillar will celebrate 95. What do you think is the secret to these two organizations’ longevity?
Childress: It’s about the people, the integrity of the business, the quality of the work and doing right by your customers. At RCR, our customers are our race fans, and at Caterpillar, they’re construction and mining companies. We’re both committed to building relationships with our customers and staying true to what our brands stand for — integrity and hard work.
In 2019, the Caterpillar race car will bear the No. 8 for the first time. What’s the significance of that change?
Childress: The No. 8 goes back quite a few years in the Earnhardt family. Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. both drove it. When we decided that Daniel Hemric would race the Caterpillar car in 2019, we knew there was no better fit for the No. 8. He grew up right down the street from Dale’s mother in Kannapolis, North Carolina. We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback on seeing a Kannapolis boy in the car.
What can fans expect from the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in 2019?
Childress: Our goal is to win Rookie of the Year, win a race and make the Playoffs. That would be a big deal for a new driver, but Daniel’s up for it. A lot of Cat Racing fans have watched him in the Xfinity Series and know he’s raced for the championship the last two years. He will win races in a Cup Series car in the future. He’s a hard worker. He knows race cars. He builds race cars. He works on race cars. He’s good with the press and the fans. That’s everything you look for in a driver today.
What keeps you going 50 years on?
Childress: I never did much but racing, and I’d probably be lost without it. I love being with the fans. I love the competition. I love pulling into the racetrack and thinking, “Today’s the day we’re going to win.” Winning keeps me going, and so do all of the people here at RCR, at Caterpillar and at all our sponsors. My wife, my daughter and son-in-law, and my grandsons are all involved. This is a family operation, no different than a lot of Cat customer and dealer businesses out there. Racing is my life, and my family’s life, and that’s why I’m so happy to be here to start another season. Here we go!"
From all of us at Caterpillar, congratulations to Richard Childress and the entire RCR organization on 50 years — and here’s to 50 more! Keep track of the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1’s progress during the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at CatRacing.com.