Hendrick’s milestone at Martinsville – the track that saved the team

By | April 3, 2024

Rick Hendrick had no plans to be at Martinsville Speedway for the track’s Cup Series race on April 29, 1984. The first-year NASCAR team owner had already decided his organization wasn’t cut out to make it in the sport. Hendrick did not have the financial resources to continue, no matter what his calculations, and made plans to close the doors of what was then called All-Star Racing in the first weeks of April.

But when Hendrick told driver Geoff Bodine and crew chief Harry Hyde, the duo asked for more time. The Martinsville race was approaching and Bodine was keen on the Virginia short track, where he had won in modified and late models. Given the chance, Bodine and Hyde were confident they could make something happen in the Cup Series car.

The team went to Martinsville. Bodine won the race and ironically Hendrick wasn’t there because he and his wife Linda were at a church event in North Carolina.

Martinsville 1984 was a timely breakthrough for Geoff Bodine and what would become one of NASCAR’s best teams ever. Photo courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

It can honestly be said that the rest was history for Hendrick. The operation not only continued through the remainder of the ’84 season, during which Bodine won two more times, but today is the winningest organization in NASCAR Cup Series history with 304 wins and 14 championships.

“There are many stories about this place; that has been pretty prevalent,” said Alan Gustafson, Hendrick’s former crew chief. “(Rick) has been pretty vocal about that. I think he’s always used that as a good perspective. The message I always took from that is that if he would have stopped and not gone to that last race, this doesn’t exist. So if you use that on a weekly basis and say, yes, you race a lot of races and it gets monotonous, but you never know which race is going to be the biggest or most important of your season. Or, in this case, the history of the company.

“Yes, I have heard that story many times. Probably since I started.”

On Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports will celebrate its 40th anniversary at Martinsville Speedway. All four drivers will use a ruby ​​red (40th anniversary color) paint scheme, Bodine and Jeff Gordon will serve as co-grand marshals, and Rick Hendrick will be the pace car driver. There will be plenty of that activation and recognition of the milestone (Bodine’s car will be on display) around the weekend, as it will be an acquisition of Hendrick Motorsports.

How it all started is now well known in the NASCAR industry. And for those within the walls of Hendrick Motorsports, regardless of when they joined the company.

“I’ve definitely heard the story a lot,” Alex Bowman said. “It’s been talked about a lot since I got here. It’s special to win there with HMS and just to learn the history of this company and build that relationship with Rick … and see the highs and lows of the company in that place. It’s definitely an important place in the history of this company.

“To hold the race in honor of the 40th anniversary, I think it is a very special place. It will be really cool.”

Bowman joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2016 as a substitute driver for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. He turned it into a full-time ride in 2018 and in 2021, Bowman won for the first time at Martinsville driving a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

After Bodine got that first Martinsville win, there have been 27 more since then. It’s where Hendrick Motorsports has won the most of any racetrack (Dover is second with 22 wins).

Gordon won nine times at Martinsville during his Hall of Fame career, including his last Cup Series victory in the fall of 2015. He also had some classic battles with teammate Jimmie Johnson there. Johnson also won nine times at Martinsville in his Hall of Fame career.

Martinsville has played host to many of the legendary duels between Hendrick teammates Johnson and Gordon, including this one in 2004. Robert LeSieur/Motorsport Images

The four current Hendrick Motorsports drivers have one win each at Martinsville Speedway. It’s only fitting that each of these wins came as a Hendrick Motorsports driver (Chase Elliott 2020; Alex Bowman 2021; William Byron 2022; Kyle Larson 2023).

“I definitely learned more about (Bodine’s win) when we talked about the 40th (anniversary) and all that stuff,” Elliott said. “The coolest thing I learned about it is how close Rick was to finishing. Reading between the lines, I think he almost pulled the plug.

“He was a bit over it and things weren’t going well. They weren’t doing as well as they wanted, and he just didn’t think he wanted to keep spending money on them. I think that win was the thing that propelled them and motivated them to keep going. So I’m happy that they won for all of us.”

Today, Bodine’s winning car sits in the museum on the Hendrick Motorsports campus. Byron, who entered the Cup Series in 2018 with a Hendrick Motorsports car, has seen it there and the car’s importance comes to the fore when talking about milestones within the company. He says it’s been talked about more and more over the years.

The history of Hendrick Motorsports will forever be linked to Martinsville Speedway and the race in the spring of 1984. All the success that followed – in NASCAR and at Martinsville – started with a race that required a driver and crew chief to plead to participate. to take.

However, the story of Hendrick Motorsports cannot be told without including the darkest day in history. One that is also connected to Martinsville Speedway.

Rick Hendrick lost family, friends and employees on October 24, 2004, when the company’s Beechcraft Super King Air 200 crashed en route to the race track at Bull Mountain in Virginia. There were no survivors.

On the plane were Hendrick’s son Ricky, nieces Kimberly and Jennifer, brother John, team general manager Jeff Turner, engine builder Randy Dorton, pilots Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison, Tony Stewart’s pilot Scott Latham and DuPont CEO Joe Jackson. NASCAR notified the Hendrick Motorsports teams of the crash as the race ended, which was won by Jimmie Johnson. There was no party after the race.

“I think I was aware, both the good and the tragic side, of what Martinsville has meant to Hendrick Motorsports and their family,” Larson said. “But as soon as I got here, you see firsthand how important that place is, almost more important than any other track on the circuit. I think you understand that there’s no more pressure when you go there, but the meaning behind winning there just means more to this organization than I think it would to any other team, and rightly so.

“I’m excited to get there. Hendrick is taking over the facility, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully one of the four of us (drivers) can have a really good race and win there on a special day.”

Sunday’s celebratory event is the 375th race for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville Speedway.

“There’s a lot of emotions going into Martinsville for the boss, and rightly so,” Elliott said. ‘I couldn’t imagine it. It has been a place that has seen many highs and certainly the lowest of lows. I think right now you’re just trying to honor the people we’ve lost as best you can and continue things as they would like.

The story originally appeared on Racer

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