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Martinsville A Special Place For Rick Hendrick

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 30 2014

Rick Hendrick has seen high highs and low lows at Martinsville. He still loves the place. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – “If it wasn’t for Martinsville, I wouldn’t be racing today.”

Those were the words of Rick Hendrick Sunday at Martinsville Speedway prior to the STP 500. Thirty years ago in Martinsville’s spring race, Hendrick obtained his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory with driver Geoff Bodine and crew chief Harry Hyde.

When the team was announced in the fall of 1983 it was known as All-Star Racing and it was without a sponsor. Hyde convinced Hendrick to run the 1984 Sovran Bank 500 at Martinsville and a few days before the event Northwestern Security Life came on as a sponsor. Still, the men know that if Bodine didn’t win at the tough half-mile track, the team’s doors would close on Monday.

“Harry said Bodine is so good at Martinsville, we need to go to Martinsville,” recalled Hendrick, whose sprawling complex now occupies the property once owned by the late crew chief who was immortalized in the movie “Days of Thunder.” “Geoff won the race and they [Northwestern Security Life] came on the car as a sponsor. Had it not been for Bodine’s talent and Harry persuading me one more … . We owe Martinsville so much.”

Today, Hendrick leads in owner wins at Martinsville with 21, two ahead of Richard Petty. The organization also has won 11 of the last 19 races at the paperclip-shaped track. Overall, it possesses 11 Sprint Cup championships. It started with five employees and 5,000-square-feet of leased workspace. Now, Hendrick Motorsports has more than 500 employees in its state-of-the-art facility that has 430,000 square feet of workspace on 140 acres.

Even though Hendrick lost his son, brother, two nieces, his general manager and two pilots in a plane crash near Martinsville 10 years ago this October, he said “Martinsville has been special for me all my life.”

“I grew up 50 miles from here,” Hendrick continued. “I remember Rex White being one of my favorites here. I watched him in a convertible. This is a neat place; a great track with a lot of heritage. And being from Virginia we like to think of this as our home track.”

Hendrick noted he had raced his entire life.

“I drove drag cars and then I raced boats,” Hendrick said. “We won three national championships in a row. We had the fastest propeller driven boat in the world.”

However, after Hendrick’s top fuel boat driver was killed the Charlotte businessman put his boats in storage and turned to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

Hendrick said despite the lack of innovation today due to the “tight box” NASCAR has created for the teams, the thrill of winning was just as strong as it was that first time 30 years ago. The “all-time greatest one” though was when son Ricky won the inaugural truck race at Kansas in 2001; a race that Hendrick didn’t attend.

“I promised my wife I would go to a church service in Greensboro and I thought it was on Saturday and it was on Sunday,” Hendrick explained. “So I was in church. That was before cell phones, so I stopped at a pay phone and called my mother and asked her how the race turned out. She said he blew up. Then she said, kidding you, he won. Then we went to Geoff Bodine’s house and wrapped his yard in toilet paper.”

From church, to rolling a former driver’s yard in toilet paper, to more victories and championships – that has been 30 years of Hendrick Motorsports.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 30 2014
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