When you put a No. 3 on the side, it becomes more than just another race car.
With that number on the side, there comes a guarantee that whoever is behind the wheel is bound to get plenty of fan and media attention. Call it a gift from Dale Earnhardt, or maybe even a curse.
Since the death of the Intimidator on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the once-quiet whispers have turned into shouts about whether the number should ever be raced again. If it is, who should be the lucky driver that gets to be the one behind the wheel?
Richard Childress had the perfect plan; the No. 3 after all is the Childress family number that friend Earnhardt made famous. It shouldn’t go to waste or be retired, and it seemed his grandson agreed.
When Austin Dillon prepared for his truck series debut at Iowa in September of 2009, the No. 3 would be on the side of the truck. Not only would the number be there, it would be a black No. 3 hitting the track in shades of Earnhardt.
Dillon wanted to show that even though Earnhardt may be gone, his number could still go to victory lane. The decision to climb aboard the famous number could have played out one of two ways.
First, the media circus could have been waiting, wanting to see what the 20-year-old could do while comparing him to Earnhardt.
Or Dillon would quickly quiet the critics and make the number his own.
Halfway through the 2010 season, it’s safe to say that he’s accomplished the latter.
Entering Saturday night’s event in Darlington, S.C., Dillon sits fifth in the Truck Series standings with his first career win under his belt. It came at the same track that he qualified for his first start, Iowa.
The fans have taken to the Bass Pro Shops team, those enjoying seeing the number back on the track and succeeding.
Or there are those who enjoy watching Dillon make his way to the top of the sport. Either way, walking through the garage area, it’s hard to spot the No. 3 truck and it doesn't have to do with the paint scheme.
The throng of people around Dillon's garage stall is a much better disguise.
The crew members go about their business, preparing the fastest and toughest machine they can for the Lady in Black. Photographers snap away, admiring the paint scheme that can only truly be appreciated when up close and in person with the Chevy Silverado.
In the middle of it all and seemingly unfazed, stands Dillon.
Waiting for when he gets the word that he can climb aboard and strap in, he glances around other garage stalls. A content look on his face, hands resting comfortably on his waist, hanging onto the straps of his HANS device.
If he’s bothered by all the attention, Dillon does a great job not showing it. Only in his first full year of competition, there will be many more of these days for Dillon. Days that will come and go, some more memorable than others.
The future of the Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR is once again behind the wheel of a black No. 3. Isn’t it funny how those things always work out?
Competitors like Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine will always draw attention when around; they’re the veterans and champions of the sport and have earned their due and respect.
But not far behind is Dillon, who has captured his own attention and will gain the respect of those around him the more he shows that he belongs in the series.
During the first practice session for the Too Tough to Tame 200, he showed everyone that he belonged at Darlington. Instead of a steep learning curve, it was the rookie visiting the tough track for the first time that put down the fastest lap, running a 29.09, which was 169.01 fast.
The next practice session was more of the same, as Dillon again took it to the field by laying down a lap of 28.96, which was 169.78 mph.
So far, he's halfway to the perfect weekend, winning both practice sessions. Bring on qualifying and the race for the No. 3 team. Just bring anything else you want to throw their way, they can handle it.
And so can Dillon.
He’s fast, he can win, and people love him for it. Now it becomes a journey of watching how much brighter his star can shine and just how far he can go.
There’s one guarantee that wherever Dillon goes, there will most likely be a crowd following.
Photo Credits: David Yeazell