Try to describe Rick Hendrick’s enormously productive life and three words keep coming up – cars, championships and charity.
The man known as “Mr. H” in NASCAR circles has loved cars since he was a kid growing up on a farm in rural Palmer Springs, Virginia, and peeking through the fence at Martinsville Speedway in search of his favorite drivers. He took engines apart and put them together again. He raced cars, too.
But Hendrick was much more than the “gearhead,” he always said he was. He turned out to be an astute businessman who opened a used car lot with an established dealer in Raleigh shortly after completing a work-study program at N.C. State. The dealer soon made the 23-year-old Hendrick sales manager of his new import car business.
By the time he was 26, Hendrick was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the United States after buying and reversing the fortunes of a dealership in Bennettsville, South Carolina. His Hendrick Automotive Group now employs more than 10,000 people and is the country’s largest privately held dealership group.
Racing was in his heart and soul, though, so in 1984, Hendrick veered toward NASCAR and fielded his first Cup car, driven by Geoff Bodine. After a shaky start to the season, Bodine took the checkered flag in the eighth race. The team ended up running all 30 races that year with three wins.
"I remember standing out on the grid before my first Daytona 500 and looking around at Richard Petty and Junior and thinking, do they know I'm out here with these guys?” Hendrick told ESPN in 2012 “Because I was convinced that if they did realize it I would be escorted off the premises.
“I had no business out there."
Quite the contrary. Hendrick has become one of the most successful owners in the history of the sport with 263 NASCAR Cup Series wins, 29 NASCAR Xfinity victories and 29 NASCAR Truck Series wins. He’s second all-time in Cup victories (1949-present) and first in modern-era wins (1972-present).
And now for the championships. No other NASCAR team owner has won more than Hendrick’s 13 – seven of which came with Jimmie Johnson at the wheel and four with Jeff Gordon driving. Terry Labonte and Chase Elliott also won NASCAR championships for Hendrick Motorsports.
Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman currently drive for Hendrick’s Cup Series team, which is based in Concord, North Carolina, roughly a mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway and employs more than 600 people. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne have also driven for Hendrick.
Hendrick was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017, four years after being tapped by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and two after his selection into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Among other honors, he has also received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and NASCAR’s Bill France Award of Excellence.
“He’s changed my life, there’s no way around it and he’s helped me be a better person, a better man, a better father,” Johnson told essesntiallysports.com in January. “All the charitable things he’s enlightened me on and supported me on and encouraged me to do.”
Indeed. Hendrick’s charitable work is as legendary as his success as a NASCAR team owner.
Hendrick was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in 1996 and has been in remission since 1999. A year after his diagnosis, he started the Hendrick Marrow Program, which has raised more than $15 million in partnership with Be The Match to help people in need of cord blood or bone marrow transplants.
Hendrick and his wife Linda then started the Hendrick Family Foundation in 2016 to consolidate the Hendrick organization’s charitable work, including its work with Be The Match. Hendrick also supports Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital, among his other philanthropic ventures.
“The key to success in any endeavor is people,” Hendrick said. “I learned that from my dad, and it’s helped guide our family and our businesses. We know that people working together can make an incredible difference for our neighbors and for our communities as a whole. It takes all of us.”
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