NASCAR Champion Owner Rick Hendrick Builds New Engine

Even after 30 years in NASCAR, it’s still all about winning and people for Rick Hendrick

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In the last 30 years, Martinsville Speedway has figured in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.

In just its eighth start, the fledgling Hendrick Motorsports earned its first-ever win at the .526-mile paper clip-shaped bullring on April 29, 1984.

Hendrick’s first driver, Geoff Bodine, brought home what would be the first of 219 Sprint Cup victories to date.

Sunday’s STP 500 will mark the 30th anniversary of HMS’s first win as a team.

Martinsville has also been the site of 16 Sprint Cup race wins for Hendrick Motorsports, including eight apiece by Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, part of 21 overall HMS wins that have also included NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and Bodine.

At the same time, Martinsville will forever be etched into the darkest, deepest and most tragic recesses of HMS legacy. It was just a few miles away from the racetrack, back in 2004, that a HMS airplane crashed into nearby Bull Mountain, killing all 10 occupants onboard, including Hendrick’s only son Ricky Jr., older brother John, John’s two daughters, HMS general manager Jeff Turner, HMS chief engineer Randy Dorton and four others.

Rick Hendrick has been a success in both business (chairman of the Hendrick Automotive Group, which now has 80 franchises and over 10,000 employees) and NASCAR racing, where his teams have won 11 Sprint Cup championships.

But 30 years is 30 years, a long time in anyone’s book. Still, Hendrick remains pretty much the same today as he did when he left his native Warrenton, N.C., to start building his empire.

And even though he has branched out into selling other brands of cars to consumers, one thing has remained constant with Hendrick: he started selling and racing Chevrolets and continues to do so today.

“We are extremely proud of our partnership with Rick and the Hendrick Motorsports organization,” Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, said in a statement. “Rick’s success over the past three decades is the result of his passion, persistence and emphasis on teamwork to get the job done.

“As a result, Hendrick Motorsports has 272 wins and 14 NASCAR Owner Championships (both categories including the Nationwide Series) – all with Chevrolet. As a key partner and respected friend, we congratulate Rick and Hendrick Motorsports on 30 great years of racing and winning.”

Not coincidentally, Chevy is also the winningest manufacturer in Sprint Cup racing at Martinsville with 52 wins, with HMS leading the way.

Friday at Martinsville, Johnson reflected upon his boss’s success, as well as the sadness that is still as fresh today as it was on that fateful October day in 2004.

“It’s always exciting to come back to Martinsville and with this being the site of Rick Hendrick’s first win, 30 years of Hendrick Motorsports and obviously 2004 with the plane crash, there is a lot of motivation when we come to this race track,” Johnson said. “It’s great to be back and it’s nice to know that this track is strong for the Hendrick cars and very strong for myself.

“We would love to check the win column box (on Sunday). We are certainly close and we were knocking on the door last weekend and I think we have had a couple other looks at wins. I think we are really understanding this 2014 package and getting some speed out of our cars and we should be contending and racing for wins I believe.”

And although the plane crash was a decade ago, it still feels like just yesterday, Johnson said.

“Absolutely we are sad that the aircraft went down and we lost everybody that was on the airplane, but I am finding today that there are a lot more happy stories as we are reflecting back,” Johnson said. “Especially of thinking about little Ricky and the crazy stuff he would do and the stunts he would pull on his dad.

“There’s a lot of laughter, and I would assume if one of the Hendrick drivers get to victory lane, it would be a very joyful celebration and emotion. Rick and Linda would probably shed some tears later in private, but from a team standpoint, and everybody at HMS, it would be a very uplifting experience.”

Someone who has watched HMS grow from both an outsider and eventually insider point of view is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who joined the organization in 2008 after a failed attempt to wrest the company his late father started, Dale Earnhardt Inc., away from his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt.

“It’s been interesting to see how Hendrick Motorsports has progressed and changed and evolved,” Earnhardt said. “They were tough competitors when I was young going to races, watching my father race.

“They seemed like they had so many resources and they had quite the dynamic when it came to drivers. It was just a team that always was going to be challenging for the win and challenging for championships, especially once Jeff (Gordon) got there they were almost unstoppable at that particular point in the ‘90’s.

“Ever since Jeff (Gordon) got there they have never fell off. They have always maintained their status as one of the top teams with a lot of growth and success. I think that is a credit to the people working there, management, just a lot of great decisions putting people in key positions.”

HMS now has somewhere in excess of 500 employees. If there’s been one constant that the company patriarch has always stressed, be it in his auto dealerships or his race teams, it’s getting the best personnel and letting them do what they do best.

As a result, loyalty is perhaps the biggest attribute within the organization and it starts at the top, according to a story in USA Today.

“He’s a very loyal guy,” Gordon told USA Today. “If you need something, and you’ve been there for him, he’ll take the shirt off his back and do whatever it takes for you. He really respects loyalty, but he also knows how to read if you’re the right person for the job or not.

“He can be around somebody for a short period of time and tell you right away their strengths and weaknesses. If their strengths outweigh their weaknesses, he’ll give them the opportunity to show their strengths.”

Earnhardt had his choice of rides when he let it be known in 2007 that he was looking to leave DEI. Many observers felt the obvious choice would be Richard Childress Racing, where his late father won six of his seven championships.

But there was just something in Hendrick’s personal touch that ultimately swayed Earnhardt in his direction and not RCR’s. It’s the same for Earnhardt as it is for all of HMS’s employees.

“Understanding people’s talents and being able to maximize their potential just in management and other key roles in the company,” Earnhardt said of Hendrick’s essential hands-off policy, letting employees carry the ball they’ve been given and running with it.

“Obviously, Rick has an influence on his employees,” Earnhardt added. “Everybody really strives from the top to the bottom to give their best. It’s a cliché but it’s so true when you actually get to work there and get behind closed doors and see the influence that he has just on individuals. Everybody just pushes so hard to do something good every day. It makes everybody else’s job that much easier. It’s just good reflection of his influence on the company as a whole, but yeah it’s fun being a part of it.

“All those years as a young kid before I drove and then as a driver competing against them you always wonder what is the culture like. Then when you get behind there and see how they are working on their cars, how they set their cars up, for year’s you have wanted that access. To finally have it it’s pretty mind blowing in certain areas. It’s been a fun experience for me.”

Ironically, it was Earnhardt’s own father who Hendrick courted heavily back in the early 1980s when he was putting together what would become NASCAR’s premier racing empire today.

“When I first got in, nobody wanted to work for me,” Hendrick told USA Today. “(The late) Dale Earnhardt shook down my first car, thought about it a little bit but knew he’d have a better opportunity with Richard Childress. As you start winning races, you get opportunities and more people.”

And winning races has become not just a measure of success at HMS, it’s become an obsession, not to mention championships. Look at Johnson: he’s won six of the last eight and is going for a seventh this season.

If he achieves it, he will tie the late Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most Sprint Cup championships (seven) – and most likely in the shortest amount of time and wins, as well.

Johnson is a prototypical example of Hendrick’s sixth sense. When Gordon approached the boss, saying he should give this former motorcross rider from Southern California a look-see, a sentiment that was seconded by Rick’s late son, the elder Hendrick did what he has done countless times: he took yet another chance.

And the rest is NASCAR history.

“I was willing to try whatever,” Hendrick told USA Today. “If we dreamed it, we tried it. So many teams have blinders and want to stay in a rut. We weren’t afraid to step out. I tell people I used to throw for the end zone every time I got my hand on the ball. I’m not quite that brave anymore.”

If Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt or Kahne end up in victory lane on Sunday, it will be further extend the Hendrick winning legacy not just at Martinsville, but throughout NASCAR.

There’s been a lot of good times, and some sorrow. But through it all, Rick Hendrick has stayed constant to his life, his family, his business and most importantly, his people.

For when you’re with the best, you too are the best.

“Maybe I should have gone to school to be a psychiatrist or something,” Hendrick told USA Today. “I try to get the people to believe in the good of the company. People think it’s corny, but I believe in that family atmosphere.

“We look after each other and go through the tough times and celebrate together, and it builds character in the organization. I’m as proud of the relationships as the trophies and championships because we’ve done it together.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: The safety car leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer, Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, and the rest of the field at the start during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s wet Monaco Grand Prix brought out the very best of Lewis Hamilton. After a tough start to his bid for a fourth Formula 1 championship, the Briton finally kick-started his season with an exquisite victory around the streets of the principality.

Hamilton picked up his first victory since last October’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, while also cutting the gap to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship.

While Hamilton basked in his second Monaco success, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was left to wonder what could have been after a pit error cost him a likely victory.

The Australian was left to settle for second place ahead of Sergio Perez, who claimed just the fourth podium finish in Force India’s history with a superb run to P4.

Debriefing with all of the post-race interviews and analysis, Will Buxton brings you the latest edition of Paddock Pass.

Karam: “I’m so bummed, because our car was so fast”

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Photo: DRR-Kingdom Racing
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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his fifth entry, after a tough race on Sunday with an accident just before halfway. You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs here. He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Well, this is my last blog for the 100th Indy 500 and I felt this would be a celebration of a great day.

Unfortunately, it ended way too soon.

After the Monday practice and the Carb Day one-hour session, I was so pumped up about our No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet. I could put the car pretty much anywhere I wanted and could pass our guys fairly easily.

In fact, the car felt so car on Carb Day that we parked it early in the practice. The Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing crew, led by lead engineer Jeff Britton and chief mechanic Brian Goslee, had prepared a great car for the race. I was disappointed with my qualifying effort. That day we just had too much downforce in the car for qualifying. So, we had to start in the 23rd position, the middle of the eighth row.

It’s wasn’t great, but I know it was a long race too.

The morning of race day is always busy. You have media interviews, suite appearances, photos with sponsors and other activities. And this year, with Gas Monkey Energy as our primary sponsor, we had the “Fast N Loud” TV crew from the Discovery Channel following the team. Gas Monkey Garage co-principal Richard Rawlings was at the race and he is the star of the “Fast N Loud” show. It was fun to have Richard and his friends at the Indy 500. I think he really enjoyed it too.

The tradition of the Indy 500 is like no other auto race. It’s Memorial Day weekend and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway salutes our troops and veterans. It’s great tribute to them. Then you have songs like America the Beautiful, Taps, the National Anthem and, of course, “Back Home in Indiana.” My favorite song at Indy.

I knew at the start of the race that I didn’t want to be too aggressive. Just wanted to settle in and get a good rhythm early. And the car felt similar to last Monday and Carb Day.

I knew I could pick off cars one-by-one since our race setup felt so good. And that is what began to happen. The car had a little understeer or push in the early stages of the first stint. But I could manage it with my “in-cockpit” tools like the weight jacker. That shifts weight to one side to the other to help the handling of the race car.

I never really forced the issue in the turns of passes but I was 15th after 23 laps. It was a good start from 23rd. The team added a half-turn of front wheel on the first pit stop to help the understeer. In the second stint, the car felt great. I could run up on other cars and make the pass. By lap 45, I sat in 12th and was looking for just a bit better handling. On the third pit stop, we added another half-turn of front wing.

Now, the car was fast and I knew it. I wanted to pass people. On lap 75, I moved to 11th, then on lap 80 to 10th. The next lap I got to ninth past Scott Dixon, followed by eighth over Tony Kanaan at lap 84, and seventh over Mikhail Aleshin on lap 85. But lap 92, I went by Carlos Munoz for sixth.

Bell and Karam. Photo: IndyCar
Bell and Karam. Photo: IndyCar

Man, I knew I had a great car. Then next lap, I got around Townsend Bell for fifth. Josef (Newgarden) checked up out of turn four and Townsend and I tried to go wide. I think I had a little nose on Townsend. I’m sure he knew I was there and I thought Townsend would back out of the throttle and I could slide by on the high side. But Townsend’s car bumped mine and I slid into the gray area by the wall. I got sideways and thought I saved it. But it kept sliding and I clobbered the wall.

I’m more upset than hurt. I banged up my right knee a little. But we had a terrific car today. It was so fast. I could drive past everyone I came up to. The Gas Monkey Energy DRR-Kingdom Racing crew worked their tails off. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t put blame on anyone. Just a racing thing.

This is a hard one for myself and the whole team. We had a fast car and maybe a chance to win the race. I just wish I hadn’t run into turn one side by side. Again, it was another great experience with this team. They gave me a super car for the race. But I’ll be back here again next year. There’s nothing like the Indy 500.



Charlie Kimball overcame drama and debris to finish 100th Indy 500 in fifth

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It was not the way anyone would have planned, but a roller coaster Indianapolis 500 ended with Charlie Kimball near the front of the field and scoring major points.

Kimball started the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in 16th, never led a lap, and was forced to overcome a season’s worth of drama in 200 laps, but when the checkered flag waved he finished fifth.

To score that result, Kimball had to stretch his fuel 36 laps, the same number as eventual race winner Alexander Rossi.

Kimball’s result was not nearly as emotional as it was for Rossi. But it might have been more dramatic.

Rossi had to fight back from a drop to the low 20s early in the race but Kimball also had a crazy day in the temporarily renumbered No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet, which is usually No. 83 for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The 42 crew worked so hard all month long and then during the race, nothing went right, it seemed like, until close to the end,” Kimball told NBC Sports following the race. “We hit a huge piece of debris about lap 100 that changed the front wing.”

One obstacle would have been enough of a challenge for most drivers, but Kimball’s misfortunes were stacked one upon another. His car was struck by debris, he believed from Mikhail Aleshin’s car after his accident.

“There was a bumper pod that I thought was going to hit right on the cockpit. It took the right front wing, broke the mount, and then got lodged in the suspension. Debris just filled the side pod so we had to come down pit lane four or five times just to clean it all out.”

“Third set from the end we had a problem with the right rear tire. I just about crashed three or four times. And then with 15 laps to go—trying to save fuel to the end—I tapped the wall in turn one as well. It was an eventful day.”

“It’s tough to swallow this because the team worked so hard,” Kimball added. “Coming away with a top-five; it helps in points, but that is about the only salve for the disappointment.”

Kimball is ninth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

“We’ll take it. We’ll learn from it. We’ll move on. We’ll be better next week.”

Follow: @FantasyRace

Smith: Monaco brought out the best in Hamilton, but where was Rosberg?

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix always had the makings of a classic. As I wrote in my pre-race preview, wet races around the streets of the principality have seen the greats in Formula 1 history flourish.

And yesterday’s race was no exception.

Lewis Hamilton’s status as a legend of the sport has been debated for some time. When he crossed the line to win his third world championship in Austin last October, the enormity of the achievement surely made such a moniker fitting.

Yet in the months that followed, questions began to be asked about Hamilton’s focus. A run of eight races without a win – seven of which were won by Mercedes teammate and perennial rival Nico Rosberg – plus a crash in Spain that had hints of desperation could have made us think twice about Hamilton.

It was perhaps fitting that the emphatic answer came at the track where Hamilton stunned F1 in 2007 and 2008, winning the latter – not to mention it being where his hero, Ayrton Senna, made his name.

Lining up third on the grid, Hamilton knew that another defeat to Rosberg would deal another significant blow to his title hopes. 43 points down heading into the weekend, he cut his usual lonely figure on the drivers’ parade, sitting alone at the other end of the truck as he focused on the race ahead.

Johnny Herbert asked Hamilton on the parade why he was so grumpy.

“I’m not grumpy, who said that?” Lewis replied.

“Don’t listen to the noise. That’s the problem with people, they listen to what other people say.”

Hamilton has always preferred to do his talking on-track, but starting third under the safety car behind Rosberg and pole-man Daniel Ricciardo – who appeared to have the fastest car in Monaco – the challenge ahead was huge.

Once the track had dried enough to allow the safety car to peel in and the race turned green, it became clear that Hamilton had the edge over Rosberg.

Ricciardo eased away in the opening laps, running almost three seconds per lap quicker than Rosberg at points. By the time Mercedes made the call for Rosberg to let Hamilton by – which he did obediently, recognizing himself that the race was slipping away – the gap was 13 seconds.

As the track dried and intermediate tires became the order of the day for most of the field, Mercedes rolled the dice and kept Hamilton out on his worn wets, hoping that conditions would quickly become good enough for slicks. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely.

What we saw in Monaco was the Hamilton/Mercedes partnership working at its very best. Seeing a driver and team work in harmony to dig themselves out of a hole together is quite rare in modern motorsport – and given the struggles both parties have faced in recent weeks, it was all the more impressive.

Yet we cannot ignore the fact Red Bull threw the race away. The early lead that Ricciardo forged should have been enough for him to win it, only for the dud pit stop on lap 32 to undo all of the hard work.

Ricciardo came in one lap after Hamilton for slick tires, the initial call being for softs. However, after seeing Hamilton bolt on a set of ultra-softs, Red Bull made a late switch to super-softs – so late that the crew did not have time to ready the tires in time. Ricciardo was sat in his pit box for 10 seconds, waiting for the wheels to be attached. The margin to Hamilton at pit exit was minuscule – but enough to decide the race.

Nevertheless, Hamilton still had to hold the faster Ricciardo back and manage his ultra-soft tires. Pirelli’s pre-race prediction was that the new compound – making its race debut in Monaco – could last a maximum of 25 laps. Hamilton made his last 47.

“I’m telling you that was the longest run, particularly after I stopped for those tires,” Hamilton said.

“It was crazy how long that was and to understand how much you can use the tires, because you don’t know what end they’re going to go. I think the last lap was the time they were literally about to drop off, but thank God they stayed on.”

The sight of Hamilton and Ricciardo running nose-to-tail for much of the second half of the race was reminiscent of some of the classic battles in Monaco. Senna/Mansell? Not quite. But it was nevertheless a brutal fight, slugging blows back and forth. And somehow Hamilton stayed ahead.

It may have been lucky, but this will nevertheless go down as a career-defining victory for Hamilton. It is the win that ended his drought and banished the demons of the early season.

And, most importantly, it has brought him back to within striking distance of Rosberg in the title fight.

What happened to Nico in Monaco?

For a man who had won every race he had finished in 2016 and the last three in Monaco, Rosberg’s display on Sunday was massively underwhelming.

It was a race where drivers such as Hamilton, Ricciardo, Sergio Perez (P3) and Fernando Alonso (P5) stood out. Rosberg looked totally out of his depth.

After tip-toeing his way through the damp conditions, Rosberg fell behind Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Alonso when making the switch to slicks. A busy pit lane meant Mercedes had to hold him for a couple of seconds, costing him positions.

Even armed with his Mercedes though, Rosberg couldn’t fight back. The one time he did get past Alonso at the Nouvelle Chicane, he ran wide and was forced to hand the position back. On the final lap, his ultra-soft tires – the same compound Hamilton had made last – lost all grip, causing him to lose another position to Nico Hulkenberg. P7 and a measly haul of six points was his lot for Monaco.

“I don’t know what the reason was. It was just very difficult out there on the intermediates,” Rosberg told NBCSN after the race.

“I just had no confidence out there, so I had to stay quite far away from the limit. Then after that, I had to let Lewis past to give him the chance to win, because with my pace I wouldn’t have had the possibility.

“So gave that a go, and then of course he did win, so good for the team. For me, I lost out a lot in the pit stops and everything, so that was disappointing.”

For Rosberg, such a disappointing display could not have come at a worse time. The German is currently in crunch-talks with Mercedes regarding a new contract, with the sticking point at the moment being the length. This performance will have done little to strengthen his case.

Rosberg has certainly been impressive this year. His four straight wins may have been comfortable, but they were perfectly executed. It is when Rosberg is thrown in at the deep end and comes under pressure – think Hungary 2014, Belgium 2014 and the 2015 US GP – that the cracks begin to show.

In 2008 we saw Felipe Massa be made to look rather average by Hamilton in a damp Monaco. Fast forward seven years, and once again the Briton has turned the tide in the title race.

What was 43 points is now 24 points. Lewis Hamilton is well and truly back in the championship race.

Well, that’s if you ever seriously thought he was out of it to begin with…