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“I know how I feel in my heart. I don’t feel a real need to discuss it a lot,” he said. “I just feel like it’s too personal for me. There are depths of it that I’m not comfortable discussing, and I don’t want to have it out in the media or on the internet. I want to honor him and respect him and please his fans and do things that make them feel good. But I don’t want to drag on about details and things of the past.”

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Richard Childress lost all interest in racing in the hours after Earnhardt’s accident. He fielded cars for six of Earnhardt’s seven championships, and together they built Richard Childress Racing into one of NASCAR’s top teams.

But Childress lost much more than an employee that sunny Sunday. He lost his best friend.

The 65-year-old doesn’t enjoy talking about his loss, and on many occasions, offers only the briefest of answers. He’s talked a bit more freely _ but never comfortably _ in the month leading up to the anniversary.

“I have personally tried to totally block (the day) out of my mind. When I get asked a question, it deserves an answer, and I’ll answer it as well as I can,” he said. “But what gets me through is remembering all the good times, the great times, the fun times I had with Dale Earnhardt.”

Those memories are what kept Childress going when it seemed as if there were no point in continuing. Through a 36-hour period, those who know him best say it was the closest he ever came to quitting. He told his wife the night of the accident he was done, he wouldn’t be taking his cars back to the track, and he felt that way all the next day, too.

Come Tuesday, alone on a dock at then-NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr.’s house, he remembered a specific conversation with Earnhardt that renewed his spirit. The two had been on a hunting trip together in New Mexico, riding horses up a mountain when Earnhardt’s horse slipped on ice and back into Childress.

They both would have tumbled off the mountain if trees below had not caught them.

“We got back to camp that night and naturally Dale blamed me for pulling his horse off the mountain,” Childress recalled. “We were having a cocktail around the fireplace, and I told him, ‘You know, if I’d been killed on that mountain today, you would have had to race Phoenix.’

“We looked at each other and he said, ‘If it ever happens to me, you better race.’ That made it a lot easier.”

Of course, it wasn’t at all easy for Childress or his organization. As he had promised Earnhardt, they raced the next week, but with a new car number and a new driver in Earnhardt’s famed black No. 3. RCR and replacement driver Kevin Harvick made it to the end of the year, but it took its toll.

“I think the first year we were all so wound up in everything we were doing … racing and trying to go out and represent RCR and the quality of racing that Dale did, I think the wind just blew out of us at the end of the year,” Childress said.

The next nine years have been a rollercoaster for the organization, which has cycled through several different rebuilding phases that culminated with Harvick’s near-miss last season in his quest for his first Sprint Cup title.

Although Childress is still seeking his first Cup championship since 1994, his last with Earnhardt, RCR turned a corner last season and seems poised after a decade of ups and downs to hold its spot as one of NASCAR’s top teams.

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