Rick Hendrick
Rick Hendrick
Category: Stock Cars
CLASS OF: 2020

by Godwin Kelly

Rick Hendrick used his wits and salesmanship and combined that with an unbridled passion for NASCAR racing to piece together a one-car Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team in 1984.

He wooed master mechanical genius Harry Hyde into being crew chief and hired 1982 Rookie of the Year Geoff Bodine to wheel the No. 5 All-Star Racing Chevrolet.

The 34-year-old owner, a few months younger than his driver, had a dream of becoming a Cup Series fixture.

Going into the eighth race of the season at Martinsville, the dream was transforming into a nightmare. Basically, Hendrick, who owned a car dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina, was out of money.

"And you know, if you close the doors, you probably don't come back," Hendrick said. "And Geoff Bodine knew that. I had told him and Harry I'd go as far as I could."

They had to talk Hendrick into entering the Martinsville race.

But all the stars aligned for Hendrick Motorsports on April 29, 1984 when Bodine shocked the world and won Martinsville. Hendrick wasn't at the track that day. He stayed home and went to church. To this day, Hendrick calls that victory a "divine intervention."

"Thank goodness I listened to Harry and Geoff," Hendrick said. "Because we won that race, we picked up (sponsor) Northwestern Security Life, and that got us through the end of the year.

"We got Levi Garrett about halfway through (the season) and won two more races, and then it just fell into place. But man, if we had stopped, it was done. There's no way we would have come back."

From that acorn blossomed a mighty racing oak. As Hendrick gained resources, his team became more innovative and aggressive.

In 1986 Hendrick added a second car, wheeled by Tim Richmond, and Bodine captured the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports won nine of 29 races.

But things really heated up when Hendrick paired 21-year-old Jeff Gordon with crew chief Ray Evernham.

From 1995-98 Gordon's colorful No. 24 "Rainbow Warriors" Chevrolet was unstoppable. Gordon won 40 races and three championships.

The only break in the chain was in 1996 when Gordon finished second in points to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte.

They were followed by the ultra-successful driver-crew chief combo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, who won a record-tying seven championships.

Hendrick Motorsports is now a four-car Cup Series team, employs hundreds of mechanics and engineers, has won more than 250 races and boasts a dozen NASCAR championships.

"Certainly impressive numbers, but more important than the wins and the championships is the person behind them," Gordon said. "He's the most loyal man that I know. His accomplishments are endless, and his character is unrivaled."

For all his success, Hendrick has had to deal with heartbreak and health issues. Richmond contracted HIV and died in 1989. Hendrick had to battle and beat cancer. In 2004 he lost his son, brother and other family members in a plane crash.

Hendrick, 70, focuses on the positives.

"It's your faith, it's your family and your friends that get you through life," Hendrick said. "When it's all over, it's the people that you touch and the lives you change that make a difference in this world."

Kelly, 64, has covered NASCAR since 1979 for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He helps produce the nationally syndicated 'NASCAR This Week' and cohosts the acclaimed podcast 'Daytona Motor Mouths.' He has written five books including a biography of Fireball Roberts.

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