(photo from Hendrick Motorsports)
When Rick Hendrick, a successful car dealer and drag boat racer formed his NASCAR team, in 1984, he had a great name for it. The name chosen, All-Star Racing, was because of a plan he was working on that would put Richard Petty in the driver seat. Additionally, one of the proposed partners in this deal was singer Kenny Rogers. But that whole plan fell through simultaneously! However, Hendrick stayed the course and kept the name, All-Star Racing, until changing the name later to Hendrick Motorsports.
Although Hendrick failed in his pursuit of Richard Petty, and also failed in his attempt to land Dale Earnhardt, Sr., he would race for the next 25 years with some of the best and most talented race car drivers in NASCAR. Hendrick Motorsports has accumulated more than 185 victories and 8 championships, making Hendrick Motorsports one of the most respected race organizations in international sports!
As HMS celebrates 25 years in the racing world, let’s look at some of the drivers that have been a part of the Hendrick Motorsports family.
Geoff Bodine, 1984-1989, was All-Star Racing’s first driver-and first winner! Bodine recorded the first victory at Martinsville , VA, just eight races into the season. Ironically, Mr. Hendrick missed the victory celebration that Sunday, he was attending a church service. Bodine won three races in 1984, which started with no sponsors. With those three victories in hand, the team was able to pick up a $450,000 sponsorship from Levi Garrett.
Tim Richmond’s fleeting star rose as quickly as it fell, drove for Hendrick from 1986 thru the end of 1987. Teamed up with the legendary crew chief, Harry Hyde, who was with Hendrick from the beginning. Tim Richmond quickly and with flare snagged 7 victories in 1986. Richmond scored 2 more victories in his abbreviated 1987 season, one that was shortened due to complications from a newly diagnosed disease-AIDS!
Darrell Waltrip, 1987-90, was a surprise arrival to the Hendrick camp. After winning 3 championships with Junior Johnson, the driver was looking for another good opportunity to shine. DW won 9 races in four years with the organization, but couldn’t bring Hendrick his first championship. He left Hendrick to start his own race team in 1991.
Ricky Rudd, 1990-93, came on board and a year later drove Hendrick to the front door steps of a Cup championship, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Rudd left Hendrick to start his own race team at the end of 1993.
Jeff Gordon, 1992-present, his arrival at Hendrick Motorsports, changed that organization forever! In just his third year,1993, Gordon won the first championship for the organization. Gordon repeated that fete in ’97,’98, and 2001 as he wrestled with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. for NASCAR supremacy!
Terry Labonte, 1994-2006, was a surprise signing for Hendrick. Even though Labonte had won the championship in 1984 for Billy Hagan, the 90’s had not been very kind to Labonte. Once coming over to HMS, all he did was win 3 races in ’94 and again in ’95. then in ’96 Terry Labonte delivered the Cup championship to Hendrick Motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson, 2001-present, basically came form nowhere to land a seat in a brand new team at the prestigious HMS. His career in the Busch (now Nationwide Series) had not generated excitement or any distinguishing features whatsoever. Upon a recommendation from Hendrick’s “lead driver”, Jeff Gordon, Johnson was signed to drive for a new team that Hendrick was forming in conjunction with Gordon. He has since amassed three consecutive championships in a row, and quite possibly add a fourth at the end of this season.
Kyle Busch, 2004-07, won four races in his three year tenure. However when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. became available, Hendrick severed the relationship in order to give Dale, Jr. an opportunity to drive his equipment.
Mark Martin, 2009-present, the grand old man of NASCAR was coerced into coming out of semi-retirement. Prior to returning to a full-time ride Martin had accumulate 36 victories and finished second in the championship standings numerous times. In this his first year with Hendrick, hes is currently in second place in the Chase for The Cup.
These are just a few of the 38 drivers who have, at one time or another, driven a car for Rick Hendrick over the past 25 years. When talking to any or all of these drivers, the one common theme that will be heard over and over again is FAMILY! When you are part of the Hendrick organization, YOU ARE FAMILY!
Through all the triumphs and through all the tragedies, Hendrick Motorsports is one big family! With just 6 races to go, it would appear that this big family will be celebrating again with one more championship for the organization. Whether it is Mark Martin winning his very first championship, Jimmie Johnson winning his record fourth consecutive championship, or by chance Jeff Gordon pulling off his drive for five, it appears that Hendrick Motorsports is about to add yet another championship to its trophy room!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!