Rick Hendrick had a clear goal in mind when he formed his own NASCAR team more than 30 years ago. “I just wanted to win a race,” he said. “One race.”
It took all of two months into his inaugural NASCAR Cup season for Hendrick Motorsports – then known as All-Star Racing – to achieve that goal. And the winning never stopped. Mr. Hendrick has watched his stable of drivers race to Victory Lane 242 times since he formed his namesake team in 1984. In addition, the organization has won a NASCAR record 11 Cup championships (six by Jimmie Johnson, four by Jeff Gordon and one by Terry Labonte).
This impressive resumé led to the recent announcement that Mr. Hendrick will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017. He will be joined by former drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons, who both drove for Hendrick Motorsports, and fellow team owners Richard Childress and Raymond Parks.
Hall of Fame voters decided there was no need to wait for Mr. Hendrick to retire from the sport before giving him this honor. His credentials have long been worthy of induction, thanks in part to a remarkable run of consistency. Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Cup race each season – and usually many more than that – for 31 consecutive years. Much to the surprise of the man who was just hoping he could make it to Victory Lane a single time.
“I never imagined we’d be where we are today,” Mr. Hendrick said. “It’s a tribute to all the people who have contributed to our success. And there have been so many of them.”
In fact, one of things that makes Hendrick Motorsports’ lengthy run of success so impressive is the number of drivers who have won races for the team. Gordon and Johnson account for 170 of Mr. Hendrick’s career victories (93 by Gordon and 77 by Johnson), but a total of 14 other Cup drivers have also taken the checkered flag in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet over the years. Along with Johnson, Gordon, Labonte and Martin, the list includes names like Geoff Bodine, Tim Richmond, Darrell Waltrip, Kenny Schrader, Ricky Rudd, Kyle Busch and current Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“To win races, you really need the total package, and we’ve been lucky to have some great, great talent on our teams,” Mr. Hendrick said. “The driver is a big part of that, and it means a lot that we’ve had success with so many guys. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with all of them, and I wouldn’t trade those relationships for anything. The wins are important, but I’m probably more proud of the friendships.
Mr. Hendrick path to the NASCAR Hall of Fame began on April 29, 1984, with a victory by Bodine at Martinsville Speedway. By 1986, Hendrick Motorsports was already a prominent player in the sport. His driver Richmond won seven of the final 17 races of the 1986 season – including six victories in a 10-race span – and finished third in the point standings.
In 1989, many people considered the 42-year-old Waltrip to be past his prime when he joined Hendrick Motorsports. That season the three-time series champion won six times and finished fourth in the point standings. Labonte also resurrected his career driving for Mr. Hendrick, winning 12 times after joining the organization in 1994 at age 37, and capturing the 1996 series championship.
Then came Gordon. Of course, it was Mr. Hendrick who had the foresight to sign the 20-year-old driver. In today’s NASCAR, it is common practice for teams to sign young talent, but when Gordon joined Hendrick Motorsports in the early 1990s, most drivers on the circuit were in their 30s and 40s.
From 1995 through 2001, Gordon won 56 Cup races and claimed the series championship four times. He retired after last season as the third-winningest driver in NASCAR history. And every one of his 93 victories came while driving for Rick Hendrick.
“The thing that was so special about being with Hendrick Motorsports is he always provided us with the most amazing equipment and the best people to work with,” Gordon said. “As drivers, when you come to work for Hendrick Motorsports, you know you had better step up your game, because he’s going to give you everything you need to win.”
And winning a race remains the goal for Rick Hendrick. Only these days, that one race is always the next race.