Richard Childress learned a valuable lesson in the 1970s when it came to getting into a brawl. Take off your watch.
“We used to go out to the bars and have a good time and everything,” Childress recalled on this week’s Dale Jr. Download (airs today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “We were up at an old bar at Daytona one night and a big fight broke out. I happened to be in it. I had a Rolex. First Rolex I ever had in my life. I lost it in that fight. Ever since that you always take your watch off.”
That creed is now synonymous with Childress thanks to a 2011 altercation with Kyle Busch.
But the buildup to that confrontation began the previous year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“That night, hell, I was good friends with Kyle. We were eating at a place and him and I think his girlfriend at the time, this was before he got married, and a guy from Toyota was there. (Toyota) had won the (Truck) championship.”
Childress went over to congratulate them on the Truck championship.
“You know I’m going to wreck your car?” Busch said, according to Childress.
“What do you mean?” Childress asked.
“Kevin wrecked me today. I’m going to wreck your car,” Busch repeated.
“What you need to do is wreck his Xfinity car, don’t wreck my car,” Childress said.
“Nope, I got to do it in Cup,” Busch said, according to Childress.
That didn’t sit well with Childress.
“If you wreck my car I’m going to whip your ass,” he told Busch.
“So they carried us over in the (NASCAR) trailer,” Childress said. “Got on to all four of us. I think Joe (Gibbs) was in there. Kyle and me and Kevin. I just told them what I was going to do and I kept my word.”
Three race weekends later, Busch was upset by how RCR driver Joey Coulter raced him in the closing laps of the Truck Series event at Kansas Speedway. That led to Busch rubbing fenders with him on the cool down lap.
Afterward, a watchless Childress confronted Busch in the garage and put him in a headlock
During Childress’ visit to the Dale Jr. Download, he also recalled a feud from Dale Earnhardt’s heyday.
Childress doesn’t remember how the late 1980s rivalry between Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine started, but he’s sure of one thing.
“It was one of those deals where whatever he gave that guy, Bodine, he deserved,” Childress said. “It was one of them deals we didn’t want to be run over and they started it. In my opinion, he started it. Once it started, we wasn’t going to be the ones to give up. Mr. France helped us give up.”
“Mr. France” was Bill France, Jr., the president of NASCAR at the time who played a hand in diffusing the rivalry that inspired Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns’ feud in the 1990 film, Days of Thunder.
“A lot of the story part was true,” Childress recalled. “But it didn’t all go down like that. I remember Bill France bringing us in there and telling us, ‘I want to see you guys running and if you have to run on each side of the race track, you’re not going to get together again.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to destroy our sport.'”
There is one detail about the film, which Childress has only seen once, that he took issue with.
“They had some fat guy doing me as the owner (actor Randy Quaid) and I didn’t like that,” Childress said.
SPARTA, Ky. – Tommy Wallace woke up Monday morning to a text message that terrified him, even though the news ostensibly was positive.
“That was the worst crash I’ve ever seen in my life,” the message read, “He’s OK. I talked to him a little while ago. Don’t worry. He’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with him.”
Wallace, the interior mechanic who is responsible for the installation and security of the seats in Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet, felt his stomach turn after reading the dispatches from Josh Sisco, who manages the car’s interior at the racetrack.
Then Wallace went online and watched the video of Dillon’s spectacularly terrifying crash at Daytona International Speedway that has dominated the highlight reels the past four days.
And he felt even worse.
“I was pretty upset,” Wallace told NBC Sports in a phone interview Friday. “Reading his texts, it pretty much scared me. So then I got a chance to pull it up and watch on video, and it was unreal. I don’t know how to explain how I felt.
“You know there’s a person’s life in your hands. You have to remember that at all times. When you’re working on (the seat), you’ve got to think about, ‘What if you were sitting in this car? What if your family was sitting in this car?’ You have to have that same type of mentality, and these guys are like family to us. You have to make sure that everything is right to the best of your ability.”
It was at Daytona, where Dillon emerged with only a few bruises after taking one of the wildest rides in NASCAR history –from 200 mph on the pavement, to sailing through the air to a dead stop with a catch fence pole in an explosion of parts and pieces to a jarring collision in the pits with Brad Keselowski’s Ford.
Among the first people Dillon thanked in interviews was his team, and in particular, Wallace, whom he greeted with a bear hug on returning to the Richard Childress Racing shop in Welcome, N.C.
“He come up to me with that big Austin Dillon smile and shook my hand and thanked me,” Wallace said. “I knew he would. That’s how he is.”
“I told him good job for keeping everything together and safe,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “Tommy is a hard worker and very concentrated on how the interior is. He asks a lot of questions about where I want things. It’s nice to have a guy working like that for you.
“You want a guy who comes in on time every day, that takes pride in his job, and Tommy is definitely one of those guys who has always been very focused and meticulous.”
A thorough and redundant system
If there were a one-word job requirement for the unheralded team members who help keep Sprint Cup drivers such as Dillon safe, “meticulous” might be it.
There are more than three dozen bolts inside the cockpit that are designed to hold the seat, leg braces, steering column, seat-belt mounts and other myriad equipment in place during crashes as violent as Dillon’s. Each of the bolts, measuring 3/8ths of an inch (1/16th of an inch thicker than the NASCAR minimum as a precaution), is checked by a wrench at least four times from when the seat is mounted to when the driver climbs aboard.
The process begins with Wallace, who can spend up to a day and a half on installing each new seat (which is constructed out of carbon fiber for RCR’s cars at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway and aluminum at other tracks). Much of the time is consumed by custom-building and welding brackets to attach the seat to the car and affix the head rests and halo section.
At the track, the handoff is made to Sisco, who makes any adjustments Dillon requests (such as changing his steering column or belts) and is the last person to ensure Dillon is comfortable before the command to fire engines.
A failsafe system involving torque sealing, which essentially leaves a paint mark on each bolt, ensures everything stays tight. If a mark is missing when the car arrives, Sisco knows a bolt might have moved.
“It’s a very redundant system,” Sisco said. “At the track, I just maintain the interior and make sure nothing serious is happening. Tommy’s the one who welds it all together. That’s his baby.”
It’s a job relished by Wallace, a 44-year-old from Richmond, Va., who has spent a lifetime in racing. After starting his career on the road as a tire changer, he came off the road and has spent the past 10 years at RCR, the past seven working on seats.
“This is what I love to do,” he said. “I love working on race cars. I love working on interiors.
“When something bad happens. you have to question yourself do you really want to do it, because of the fact that if someone gets hurt, you feel like you’re responsible for it. Nobody wants to think about that side of it. This is a dangerous sport. The drivers don’t really get the credit they should. The amount of energy that is applied to them when they crash is just unreal – and how they can stand that, and how their bodies can hold up to that.”
‘Everything worked as it was supposed to’
Sisco, who is in his fifth year at RCR and first as an interior mechanic, also has contemplated the hazards of NASCAR. He worked on Joey Coulter’s truck, which tore a hole in the Daytona catch fence in the 2012 season opener.
“I don’t think you ever worry about the stuff breaking or not performing because you know how thorough we are, but you just don’t know when it gets in the fence,” said Sisco, a 28-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. “The fence did everything it was supposed to do, but man, it’s a lot harder on the car than the wall is. The engine was gone. You hit a wall, the engine never comes out. It’s just the fence is almost like a cheese grater when it starts cutting through stuff.
“The first thought is just what hit the fence first and what did the fence get to? Once he landed and you could see the driver’s compartment still intact, there was no worry about (Dillon) coming free or anything like that.”
There still was one heart-stopping element: the cord to Dillon’s radio was disconnected after the crash, precluding the team from confirming Dillon’s well-being until a visual inspection.
But the silver lining that emerged from those anxious moments? The radio was the only significant piece that broke free inside the cockpit during the brutal tumble down the frontstretch.
“That was probably the coolest part: Everything else was still where we bolted it before the race,” Sisco said. “That was pretty neat. Everything worked as it was supposed to; nothing moved on him.
“I think proud is a good word, that we built something like that. All of us, even the chassis guys, they never get any credit for building that sturdy of a car. Where they put their adjustments, their brakes, all that stuff matters. It made me proud that everybody that worked there put that much effort into it and was able to come away from that violent of a hit. That was the first thing was, ‘Man, we built a really nice car.’
The emotions were somewhat different for Wallace.
“I wouldn’t say a sense of pride,” he said. “It was more a sense of relief that (Dillon) was OK. The last thing you want to do is be the person who worked on something that someone got injured in, and I was very relieved he was OK.
“I’m a fairly religious guy, so I truly believe the Lord’s hand was on him, and that’s the only reason why.”
Long: Daytona crash shows time is now for NASCAR to make bold change
The list grows and each time a sickening feeling returns. Cars in the fence. Even a Truck.
And fans injured.
While drivers assume risk, fans don’t and shouldn’t.
Yet, Austin Dillon’s crash into the catch fence Monday morning marked the third time since Feb. 2012 fans have been injured at Daytona International Speedway. More than 35 spectators have been hurt in those incidents.
At what point is change necessary to protect fans? At what point must changes be made to keep cars and trucks from flying into the fence like an out-of-control circus act? At what point should radical changes be considered, even if displeasing to spectators, to protect everyone?
Daytona’s catch fence did its job Monday – keeping Dillon’s car from tumbling into the stands. The car cocooned Dillon. Despite going from nearly 200 mph to zero almost instantly, Dillon walked away with only a bruised tailbone and bruised forearm – signs of how far NASCAR’s safety initiatives have come.
What can’t be ignored is another car tumbling into the fence. Even with Daytona moving fans back and keeping them away from the fence, this trend of vehicles crashing into the fence is troubling – and unacceptable.
“I hope all the fans and @austindillon3 are ok,’’ AJ Allmendinger tweeted after the race. “I don’t know how many cars we need to keep sending into the grandstands before we fix this.’’
Former champion Kurt Busch also is frustrated with this form of roulette racing.
“I’m glad that we have night-time sessions for practice and qualifying (because) we get all day to think about how we’re going to end up all wrecking at the end,’’ he said.
“It’s like a Kentucky Derby. It’s like a Preakness. It’s like a Belmont Stakes except there are 30 horse running down to the finish and the track is only wide for three at a time. Do the math.’’
The math is scary. Consider:
Five fans were injured in Monday’s crash with one treated and released from a local hospital.
In Feb. 2013, more than 30 fans were injured when Kyle Larson’s car sailed into the catch fence during what is now an Xfinity Series race. Fourteen were transported to a hospital.
In Feb. 2012, Joey Coulter crashed into the fence in a Camping World Truck Series race. Two fans were injured. One was treated at a local hospital.
In each of those races, the crash happened either on the race’s last lap or just after the finish – as happened Monday morning. All three crashes came on a green-white-checkered finish.
There’s no doubt that a two-lap restart for the win causes fans to rise in the stands or edge closer to the TV at home, but these accidents are proof that NASCAR should eliminate green-white-checkered finishes at restrictor-plate races.
If a crash happens just before the scheduled end, the race ends under caution. Yes, it’s not the most appealing way to finish a race but it’s better than medics rushing to fans bruised and bloodied by flying shrapnel.
While there’s been a slight uptick in attendance at some of plate races, the possibility of a finish under caution shouldn’t hurt the crowds, which have not returned to their peak from years ago.
Prohibiting a green-white-checkered finish for plate races won’t eliminate the possibility cars or trucks crash into the fence and potentially injure fans. Until NASCAR finds a way to keep those vehicles grounded, the responsible action is to limit the number of times these vehicles can soar out of control and endanger mothers, fathers, brothers sisters, aunts, uncles and others.
When it gets to a final restart, the odds are great an accident is likely. This year’s Daytona 500 went to a two-lap shootout after a two-car crash. What happened next? Instead of the race ending under caution, fans saw eight cars crash. No one was injured that time.
It wasn’t surprising that there was a crash at the end of Monday’s race.
“When we came off Turn 4, I assumed that we were all going to wreck because there was a pretty good draft especially from the guys that were four or five rows back,’’ Jamie McMurray said.
What happened in race winner Dale Earnhardt’s rearview mirror was so frightening that he was near tears until he was told Dillon was OK.
“I haven’t even seen the wreck, and I don’t even know if I want to see it,’’ Earnhardt said.
No one should have to see what happened Monday again.