Roads To The NASCAR Hall Crossed Many Times

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 21 2017

Rivals at the tracks, team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick are now brothers in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They are among the five members of the Class of 2017. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C – Four of the five men inducted Friday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame had careers that were intertwined over three decades.

For Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, their first formal meeting came in 1987 at the invitation of then NASCAR president Bill France Jr. France summoned Childress, Hendrick and their drivers – Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine – to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona after the two competitors had spent two weekends wrecking each other at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was a meeting that was recreated in the movie “Days of Thunder.”   

It was a day that impacted all four men’s lives. France told Hendrick he could go back and focus on selling cars, Bodine could return to running Modifieds, and Earnhardt could return to the dirt tracks if things didn’t change.

“This sport is bigger than you and me and it will be here when we are gone,” France told Earnhardt.

Hendrick said in his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech that France “pinned our ears back like I’ve never had anybody talk to me in my life.”

It was a day that changed all of the men’s lives and was the beginning of a special friendship between Earnhardt and France. After that day, Childress and Earnhardt went on to claim five championships together. Eventually, Childress became the first NASCAR owner to win championships in all three of NASCAR’s national series. His 11 titles are second on the all-time list.

Hendrick now possesses an all-time record 12 NASCAR premier series car owner championships. He also has 15 NASCAR national series owner championships, the most in NASCAR history.

Benny Parsons and Mark Martin drove for Hendrick.

Parsons answered Hendrick’s call in 1987 when Tim Richmond was too sick to return. That year Parsons and veteran crew chief Harry Hyde produced six top-five and nine-top 10 finishes in 29 races. He led 87 laps and finished 16th in the standings. His average start was 11.7 and his average finish 18.7.

Benny was one sweet man,” Hendrick said. “He loved everybody.  He lifted everybody.  He was such an ambassador to our sport.  He was a champion, but he was a champion in the booth.  He was a champion person.  And when you go through life and no one has anything to say ugly about you, can say anything negative, then you are a true champion, and Benny was that guy.”

Mark Martin had his final shot at a series championship in 2009 when he drove for Hendrick. That year Martin finished second in the standings for the fifth time. He won five races, produced 14 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes. He also claimed seven poles and led 805 laps.

The three years Martin spent with Hendrick will stand out as possibly some of his most enjoyable. In those years – 2009-11 – Martin produced five victories, 23 top-five and 42 top-10 finishes.

“Mark … you’ve made a difference in every organization that you’ve ever been in, and you made a big difference in ours,” Hendrick said. “I’m a pretty good car salesman because I had to talk you and your wife into coming out of retirement to do the whole deal.”

Martin admitted in his post-induction meeting with the media that he told Hendrick twice he wouldn’t drive for him before finally relenting.

“It was magical,” Martin said about that 2009 season. “We had the time of our lives.”

Raymond Parks was the only inductee who didn’t touch the other four men directly. However, he did touch them indirectly because he was there during NASCAR’s formative years. If Parks hadn’t helped form the young sport’s foundation, then the other four men wouldn’t have been able to join Parks in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  

What he’s (Parks) done for our sport, to get us to this place, it’s amazing,” Hendrick said.  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 21 2017
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