by Vanessa Infanzon
Former NASCAR driver Richard Childress bought an old taxicab for $20 when he was just 17 years old. It would be his first step toward 76 top-10 finishes in 285 races.
“I turned it into a racecar,” says Childress, 75. “And that’s when I started racing. [My first race was in] Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.”
For more than 50 years, Childress has been president and chief executive officer of Richard Childress Racing, known for its drivers Dale Earnhardt Sr., Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd.
Childress, born in Winston-Salem, was introduced to racing when he sold peanuts and popcorn at the stadium. “I’d see all the race drivers and go there and hang out with them,” explains Childress, a Lexington, North Carolina, resident. “I liked their wild side and said, ‘I need to get me a race car some day and be a race driver.’ That’s how it all started.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic sponsored the famed #3 Chevrolet for several years. The AAA Car Care Techs were invited to the RCR campus in Welcome, North Carolina, to tear down the car after Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon drove the #3 car in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Judy and Richard Childress are AAA Members. “We think it’s (AAA) a great organization,” Childress says. “My wife uses it. She had a flat tire on her Escalade coming back from Charlotte when they were redoing the roads. AAA came over there and helped her out.”
Racing hasn’t been Childress’ only passion. Early in his career, he visited vineyards in Monte Rio and Riverside in California and the Finger Lakes in New York. Childress became intrigued with the idea of a winery in North Carolina. In 2004, Childress Vineyards in Lexington served its first vintage wine. The 100-acre property offers wine flight tastings, a gift shop and special events such as live music in the summer and a wine-makers dinner in the fall. The Bistro on property offers lunch.
Childress takes driving seriously on and off the track. He offers this advice: Don’t use your cell phone while driving, always drive defensively and keep your eyes on the road. He believes AAA keeps motorists safe.
“I think it’s a lot more than a service that they (AAA) do,” Childress says. “Even for me, some things might happen. To just to have the equipment, the tools and the knowledge to get you up and get you going again is very good. It’s the safety factor – you don’t have to leave your car and start walking. You can get in touch with AAA and they’ll be right there to help you out.”
(Photos: Visit Lexington, NC)