Rick Hendrick: The Building Of A Dynasty

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Rick Hendrick: The Building
Rick Hendrick. (HHP/Alan Marler photo)

The mammoth campus of Hendrick Motorsports, located a couple of miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, is one of the most specialized, state-of-the-art racing facilities in the world.

Since 1984, team owner Rick Hendrick has enjoyed phenomenal success with 312 victories and 13 championships in NASCAR competition, including 12 titles and 257 victories in the Cup Series alone.

Today’s young fans may not realize the sprawling facility and inspirational success story was born in a small shop with double doors that housed only two Chevrolet Monte Carlos and six employees during the fall of 1983.

Hendrick dreamed of being a part of NASCAR since childhood while growing up on his father’s tobacco farm near South Hill, Va. The smell of motor oil meant so much more to him than the sticky green leaves that had to be cut, tied and lifted high into the top of tobacco barns for curing. At times, he would hire a friend to work in the field and pay them out of his allowance. Other times, he would pick a fight with his brother, John, so his dad, Papa Joe Hendrick, would send him home as punishment.

Too young to get his driver’s license, Hendrick rode his bicycle eight miles one way to work on cars driven by short-track superstar Ray Hendrick (no relation).

For Rick Hendrick, the urge to race was stronger than ever by his 16th birthday, prompting the purchase of a 1931 Chevrolet that he rebuilt alongside his dad and drove at Person County  Drag Strip in Roxboro, N.C. Doing so was a compromise, as his mother, Mary, totally disallowed any thought of oval-track racing.

Hendrick’s passion led to selling cars and developing dealerships of his own. After he and his wife, Linda, were married in 1973, they continued selling Corvettes through newspaper ads. Linda worked as an X-ray technician and detailed cars with her husband on her days off.

At age 23, Rick Hendrick became general sales manager and later owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Bennettsville, S.C. A seed was planted that grew into Hendrick Automotive Group, beginning with four Chevy dealerships in 1983.

Business was good, prompting Hendrick to build a NASCAR Cup Series team. Hendrick initially considered becoming a sponsor, but car builder Robert Gee pushed him toward ownership.

“Robert is probably the person that got me into the sport,” Hendrick said in the book, “Twenty Years of Hendrick Motorsports,” published in 2004. “We grew up in the same town in South Hill, Va. I sponsored his dirt car for little or no money with the City Chevrolet name.

“We had a NASCAR Busch Series car together and the first race we ran, Dale Earnhardt drove for us. We won the 300 at Charlotte (May 1983) and that was my first NASCAR win. Not too many people remember Dale Earnhardt as a winner in one of my cars.”

Gee remained with Hendrick when the Cup Series effort began. Hendrick also hired crew chief Harry Hyde. Hyde had heavily contributed to Bobby Isaac’s 1970 Cup Series championship but had not been with a top team until joining driver Neil Bonnett and team owner J.D. Stacy in 1978.

Geoff Bodine in victory lane after an early win for Hendrick Motorsports. (NASCAR photo)

It was Hyde’s building that housed the original Hendrick team, a place not much bigger than a two-car garage. New York modified standout Geoff Bodine was hired to drive the car.

The initial plan was for Richard Petty drive for Hendrick with country music star Kenny Rogers and sprint car chassis builder K.C. Spurlock as partners. The team had a unique name that was used throughout 1984.

“Richard Petty gave us a verbal commitment,” Hendrick said. “We were going to have the king of NASCAR and the king of country music. That’s the reason we called it All Star Racing. It sounded like a dream come true. Harry started building a car and we ordered three engines.”

Rogers and Spurlock backed out in part because Petty wanted to field Pontiacs and Hendrick was dedicated to Chevrolets.

After a slow start to the 1984 season, Bodine won three races.

In 1985, the team was renamed Hendrick Motorsports and Bodine remained behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet. The following year, a second team was created for Ohio driver Tim Richmond. A third car was added for three-time Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip in 1987.

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