Cheer the 3. What does it mean to you? For many in my dad’s generation the 3 is Dale Earnhardt. For my generation the 3 is Dale Earnhardt…AND Austin Dillon. How the next generation answers that question is yet to be determined, but Richard Childress’ decision to put the 3 back on the track insures that Dale Earnhardt’s legacy will be remembered by NASCAR fans for years.
For many fans, the 3 car was what brought them into NASCAR and made them fall in love with the sport. The same is true for me. My dad was, and still is, a loyal Earnhardt fan. He was in the stands when Dale Earnhardt finally won the 1998 Daytona 500. And when Earnhardt died, I have been told it was like a family member had died. Although I was only two years old in 2001 and do not remember watching Dale Earnhardt race, I have come to understand why people feel such an attachment to the number since I have been a fan of NASCAR for my whole life. I know that the sport I love would not be what it is today without Dale Earnhardt.
The 3 was Dale Earnhardt’s coat of arms. And before him, it was Richard Childress’. Now it is being passed down to Austin Dillon. He will create his own legacy in the car and also pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt while doing so. Racing the 3 is a way to honor Dale Earnhardt, not a way to replace him. Austin Dillon driving the 3 car is a thread to connect the past, present, and future of NASCAR. How will future generations know of the legacy if we keep the number’s story off the track? Every time the 3 rolls through Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway in February, everyone’s minds will turn to Dale Earnhardt.
My generation knows the legacy of the Earnhardt 3 because we learned it from our parents and from watching and reading about NASCAR. It is my generation’s responsibility to pass down the history of the sport to future generations. Some day when we are watching a race with our kids and they wonder why we get emotional when Austin Dillon’s 3 takes the checkered flag, we’ll tell them the story of Dale Earnhardt.