WELCOME, N.C. — For those who like reliving great moments in NASCAR history and enjoy seeing the Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlos or Luminas driven by the late great Dale Earnhardt, welcome to Welcome, N.C., home of the Richard Childress Racing (RCR) complex and RCR Racing Museum.
Danny “Chocolate” Myers, longtime gas man for the No. 3 team, is curator of the 47,000-square-foot museum that encompasses the original No. 3 race shop built on the RCR campus in 1986 and the original museum constructed in 1991.
A 3,500-square-foot building ties the two structures together and inside are 47 rare vehicles (46 cars and one NASCAR truck) and a tractor-trailer used to transport the race cars.
Of the 46 race cars, 22 are the black No. 3 GM Monte Carlos or Luminas driven by the late Earnhardt. Also on display are all six of the No. 3 special paint scheme cars that the elder Earnhardt competed with in the Winston races from 1995 to 2000 and a 1987 No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
As you tour the facility 16 video screens play back key victories in RCR history as well as informational segments hosted by Childress himself (a young and fit-looking 64) and by members of his managerial staff.
The RCR complex which houses the museum and racing headquarters is down the main drag and across the railroad tracks in this small bedroom community of the Lexington-Thomasville metro area, and when you arrive in this town, it’s clear this is NASCAR country.
There’s a garage on nearly every street corner and in the RCR fabrication shop, just across the lane from the museum, it seems fitting that the smell of paint and the sound of country music mingle in the air as techs, painters, fabricators and others work to give drivers the cars they like and feel comfortable in. Each team has 12 to 15 cars, and drivers look for ones that fit their driving style, enhance their performance and give them “repeatability” and consistent handling.
“This technology [of body fabrication] actually started with skirting and armor in medieval times,” noted RCR fabrication manager Ronnie Hoover to members of the press recently. And, he said, “It takes time to get to the optimum skill level.”
As we’re escorted through fabrication and into the final assembly area we learn that there are 13 stations to get cars ready for the track.
“Tolerance is the width of a credit card,” noted crew chief Gil Marten. It’s a “cat-and-mouse game” to shave a little here, add a little there, “all done to meet inspection,” he said.
In the engine shop, there’s 40,000 square feet of engine production space and an engine builder for each engine program. They turn out 400-500 engine builds a year and 10-11 engines a week. Included in the space is a room with $2.5 million worth of parts.
Engine calibration and diagnostics are done with the twist of a knob by engineers who are separated from the engine, itself, by a nearly soundproof door and window.
The high-tech gadgetry is a far cry from the museum’s 1990 Lumina original one-third-scale clay model, which was designed and developed for wind tunnel testing at a cost of more than $150,000 — chicken feed compared to today’s costs.
It will be interesting to see what’s in the RCR Museum 20 years or so down the road.
One thing that might be there is the carburetor used currently. That’s because while much of today's NASCAR looks high-tech, the engine is essentially the same as the 1955 short-block V-8. Nearly every other major form of racing uses fuel-injection engines. And according to recent scuttlebutt, NASCAR could be next in line for fuel injection in 2010, possibly starting at the cup level.
A blog on the NASCAR Web site says it’s not if but when it will happen, but a date has not yet been publicized. One thing is for sure, however: NASCAR is a multi-billion-dollar industry with an estimated 75 million fans and growing in popularity all the time.
You don’t have to tell that to the folks at Welcome, N.C.; it’s evident that here, NASCAR is king.
The RCR Museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Admission is $12 for adults; $8 for seniors ages 55 and older; $5 for students ages 7 to 18 and free for children 6 and younger.
For more information, call (800) 476-3389.