In my recent post Life In NASCAR Without Petty, a couple of fans suggested that NASCAR allow the 43 and 3 to become retired numbers, obviously meaning that no other driver nor team can use them. As Petty Enterprises is absorbed by GEM, the 43 will never be the same. The number use in NASCAR is complicated. NASCAR supposedly owns the numbers and leases them to car owners. However, car owners or drivers can copyright the number use in a certain font. Strange indeed.
One fan brought up the point that the NHL completely retired the number 99, which was Wayne Gretzky's number. Obviously, Gretzky did not play for every team, but he is arguably the greatest player to wear a hockey uniform. His influence on the sport prompted the league to recognize him by retiring the number. NASCAR could take a similar stance when it comes to certain numbers.
NASCAR teams only use single and double-digit numbers, usually ranging from 0 to 99, and of course 00 to 09. That is 110 numbers. In our lifetime, and even our kids lifetime, only a small handful of numbers will warrant retirement.
Here are some numbers that I feel should be retired by NASCAR.
3-Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
43-Richard Petty/Petty Enterprises
the 24 should be immediately retired whenever Jeff Gordon hangs up his helmet
the 21 should be retired whenever the Wood Brothers are forced out of the sport. Unfortunately, it appears as if the Wood Brothers are on the verge of fading out of NASCAR completely.
You can go back to the primitive days in NASCAR and find drivers that earned the right to have their number retired, such as the 42 for Lee Petty; however, that number has been used for years by other drivers, long after the thought of retiring numbers materialized.
Only numbers associated with a driver or team for more than a decade should be considered, as well as the influence and success of the driver or owner. I wouldn't start retiring numbers for drivers such as Mark Martin (6), or Terry Labonte (5), because they aren't necessarily iconic. Nevertheless, the 6 and the 5 could eventually be retired acknowledging car owners Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick. Realistically, only one or two numbers for drivers and owners per generation will merit retirement. Just a thought.