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

 

Red Bull GRC: Second New River race officially cancelled

Deegan's rattled Ford. Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
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The second of two planned races at Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip to MCAS New River was scrubbed on site due to heavy rain, lightning and unsafe track conditions.

And while the possibility existed Red Bull GRC could have gone with some sort of makeup round, in the end, the decision was made to cancel the race outright.

Here’s the official statement from Red Bull GRC:

“After the suspension of 2016 Championship Round 7 at Marine Corps Air Station New River due to severe weather, Red Bull Global Rallycross officials have announced the cancellation of the round in its entirety. Round 7 cannot be resumed due to the inability to replicate the race circumstances and facility at which it was originally contested. No points will be awarded for Round 7 and no make-up event will be scheduled.”

The series resumes this weekend at Washington, D.C. for the original Round 8, which will air LIVE, Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

Scott Speed won the lone race at New River as it turned out, and has now vaulted himself closer to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust in the championship.

A number of 2017 race schedules are already coming into focus

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 18:  The Porsche Team 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb leads the field at the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 18, 2016 in Le Mans, France.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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As the summer of 2016 rolls into the final days of July and the beginning of August – a month in which several key non-NASCAR forms of motorsport, F1, IndyCar and Red Bull GRC go on extended breaks before the end of the month – it’s worth noting that many series already have a lot of ducks in a row for their 2017 schedules.

Let’s start first with the full 2016-2017 or 2017 schedules that have already been released, the FIA Formula E Championship and NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendars:

We’re then hearing of a couple other schedules which could be coming out in the next few weeks.

We hear the Pirelli World Challenge schedule might come out this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which would make sense because Mid-Ohio is traditionally the event where series stakeholders get a lay of the land on how the year’s gone and what’s to come for the following year.

Similarly next week at Road America, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge calendars. Road America in August has been the place where the calendar’s come out each of the last two years.

And INDYCAR is shooting to have its 2017 and perhaps 2018 (yes, seriously) calendars out in August. Whether that’s before Road America, where it announced its INDYCAR return last year, or after when the racing season pauses for a couple weeks, remains to be seen.

There’s already a number of dates that have been released for IMSA and IndyCar. Here’s what we know, below:

INDYCAR

  • St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017
  • Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017
  • Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
  • Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
  • Detroit, June 2-4, 2017
  • Road America, June 25, 2017
  • Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
  • Toronto, July 13-16, 2017

Phoenix and Barber would figure to be set for April returns but it was forecast earlier this year by AZCentral.com that Phoenix, which ran April 2 this year, could move to the end of the month owing to the fact the NCAA Men’s Final Four is in Phoenix the weekend of April 1-2 with the semifinal games on Saturday, April 1. If it moves to the end of the month, that could shift Barber forward to the start of the month.

Texas Motor Speedway’s race would figure to be back to its June date. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have been on World Challenge schedules so if we get a World Challenge schedule this weekend, perhaps we’ll see those dates.

The leftovers from 2016 then would be Pocono and Watkins Glen, which are on year-to-year contracts. Watkins Glen was added this year as an eleventh hour replacement for Boston, and it was thanks to some tireless and quick work by INDYCAR’s Jay Frye and Watkins Glen president Michael Printup – and their staffs – that they’ve got it done.

Gateway Motorsports Park has expressed interest in hosting an IndyCar race and there was also talk about Surfers’ Paradise late last month.

IMSA

  • Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 28-29, 2017
  • Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 15-18, 2017

Add Long Beach and Detroit’s dates from INDYCAR to that.

FIA WEC

  • Silverstone, April 14-16, 2017
  • Spa, May 6, 2017 (provisional)
  • Le Mans Test Day, June 4, 2017
  • Le Mans, June 17-18, 2017
  • Nürburgring, July 14-16, 2017

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted yesterday, the Nürburgring round would clash with the Montreal FIA Formula E round on July 15-16, which makes it a likelihood at least one of the events would move.

The second of four FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting of 2016 was held last month and usually at the third meeting, if not sooner, a number of draft calendars are released.

These are several pieces to the puzzle then, ahead of that next meeting.

Corvette Racing’s 100 wins have spanned 16 years, multiple eras

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The benchmark for North American sports car racing teams this century, arguably, has been Corvette Racing.

And on Saturday, the Corvette Racing team hit the century-win landmark.

A 1-2 finish led by longtime Corvette Racing stalwart Oliver Gavin, the winningest driver in Corvette Racing history, and newish recruit Tommy Milner, now in his sixth season of the team, occurred during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock.

“It is pretty amazing to get the 100th,” Gavin said. “We have had some great wins this year.  When you look at Daytona, that was phenomenal; Sebring too. Our Le Mans win last year. But to get the 100th is pretty special. I have to thank the team and everybody involved.  I have had a few of the wins with the team, but I have to say this is a pretty special one. To fight off the No. 67 car and having our teammates on the podium. It is pretty special for everyone at Corvette Racing!”

“I feel very lucky to say I was in the car that got the 100th win for this team, but you think about all the people that have worked on this team; all of the drivers; the crew, the marketing and PR people, everybody that have contributed to this, I just feel fortunate to be a part of that. It is good to get that monkey off of our back. It was a small monkey, but it was lingering,” Milner added.

The pair of Corvette C7.Rs have soldiered on despite being hampered by certain Balance of Performance adjustments – most noticeably at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – and returned to the top step of the podium on Saturday following great drives from all four of the team’s drivers. Besides Gavin and Milner up front in the No. 4 car, the “King of Spain” Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen also scythed through the field to end second in the sister No. 3 car.

Corvette Racing first and foremost is a team though, and while it’s program manager Doug Fehan who has always been front-and-center for the Pratt & Miller outfit, the team’s crew is a huge reason why it has achieved the success it has since 1999.

“If you’re going to win your 100th race, you may as well do it with a 1-2 finish,” Fehan said after the race on Saturday.

“We never diminish the input the engineers have in giving the team great Corvettes, and the crew today just had  absolutely terrific pit stops. But today, this one goes to the drivers. On this race track and in these conditions, those guys brought it home. I’m tipping my hat to the drivers today.”

Added Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, “Achieving 100 victories is a tremendous accomplishment for Corvette Racing. It’s a testament to the dedication of all the crew members, engineers, drivers and our engine team members over the past 17 years. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this milestone without the support of our partners at Pratt & Miller, Mobil 1 and Michelin. Everyone with Corvette Racing operates as one team and embodies the competitive spirit of Chevrolet. We’re happy to share this success with our passionate Corvette owners and supporters.”

Here’s a great salute from the FIA World Endurance Championship paddock, from DailySportsCar editor Graham Goodwin.

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From a team release, here’s the breakdown of wins:

The Corvette Racing team made its first start Jan. 31, 1999 at Daytona. Since that time, the program has claimed championships and victories on endurance racing’s most prominent stages:

  • Ten manufacturer and team championships in the American Le Mans Series, plus nine driver titles
  • Eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • Three wins in the Rolex 24 including an overall victory in 2001
  • Ten class wins at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

Corvette Racing also claimed endurance racing’s Triple Crown in 2015 with wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. It was the first team in 15 years to accomplish the feat.

The tally of Corvette Racing victories spans a number of different series. In addition to its record at Le Mans, Corvette Racing has nine wins in the WeatherTech (formerly TUDOR) SportsCar Championship, 82 in the American Le Mans Series (a record for entrants) and one in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

Here’s a recap video and congratulatory message from Corvette Racing’s longtime tire technical partner, Michelin:

“We are pleased that since Corvette Racing switched to Michelin for the 2004 racing season, the last 75 wins have been with us,” said Ken Payne, technical director motorsports, Michelin North America.

“We want to congratulate our friends at Chevrolet, GM Motorsports, Pratt & Miller, and the entire Corvette Racing teams and drivers on this milestone win.”

Here’s a congratulatory message from longtime oil partner Mobil 1:

And here’s a list of all the past wins, via Autoweek.

The driver breakdown of past winners, by number of wins, is as follows:

  • Oliver Gavin (47; 2002-3, 2003-2, 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Johnny O’Connell (41; 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3)
  • Olivier Beretta (31; 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2011-1)
  • Ron Fellows (30; 2000-1, 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2008-2)
  • Jan Magnussen (30; 2004-2, 2005-2, 2006-2, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Antonio Garcia (11; 2009-2, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Tommy Milner (11; 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Kelly Collins (6; 2000-1, 2001-1, 2002-2, 2003, 2)
  • Andy Pilgrim (5; 2000-2, 2001-1, 2002-2)
  • Franck Freon (4; 2000-1, 2001-2, 2003-1)
  • Max Papis (3; 2004-1, 2007-2)
  • Ryan Briscoe (2; 2015)
  • Marcel Fassler (2; 2016)
  • Chris Kniefel (1; 2001)
  • Scott Pruett (1; 2001)
  • Emmanuel Collard (1; 2010)
  • Richard Westbrook (1; 2013)
  • Jordan Taylor (1; 2015)

Justin Wilson honored with corner name at Snetterton

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British circuit Snetterton has renamed one of its corners in honor of Justin Wilson.

Wilson was killed last August after being struck by debris in a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono, sustaining severe head injuries.

The British driver spent much of his junior career racing at tracks around the UK, including Snetterton.

Wilson won the inaugural Formula Palmer Audi title back in 1998, a series run by Snetterton owner and ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer, the track being part of his MotorSport Vision group.

Palmer worked with Wilson to help him get onto the F1 grid, and the two maintained a close friendship.

On Monday, officials at Snetterton announced that the Montreal hairpin has now been renamed the Wilson hairpin. A special corner board will be placed on the run towards the Wilson hairpin featuring his name and his iconic helmet design.

“Justin Wilson, the champion of my inaugural Formula Palmer Audi championship, thoroughly deserved the support which that success brought him, and it was enormously satisfying to watch him make the best possible use of every opportunity he had through to F1 and IndyCar racing,” Palmer said.

“But not only was Justin an outstanding racing driver, he was also the epitome of a true sportsman, earning universal respect and admiration.

“He leaves a lasting legacy that we will cherish and perpetuate, with the naming of Wilson corner at Snetterton an important part of that.”

Justin’s younger brother, Stefan, who raced at this year’s Indianapolis 500, added: “This is such an incredible gesture by MSV and I know Justin would be very honoured and humbled to learn that he has a corner here at Snetterton named after him.

“Snetterton has a special place in our memories as our dad raced here back in the 1960s and he would tell us stories of racing down the old Norwich straight. Plus, Justin and I raced here many times in our own careers.”

The first event to take place at Snetterton using the Wilson hairpin will be this weekend’s British Touring Car Championship round. All three races will take place on Sunday – what would have been Wilson’s 38th birthday.