Hendrick Motorsports is among the best dynasties in all of sports, winning a record 11 car owner championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since the team was founded in 1984.
That championship rate is more frequent than even the New York Yankees’ 27 World Series titles in 112 seasons.
So it’s no surprise to see accolades pile up for the man behind it all, Rick Hendrick, sometimes referred to as NASCAR’s George Steinbrenner. Hendrick will add another honor Thursday when he becomes the 17th inductee into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Hendrick Motorsports has a strong history at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.
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The team’s drivers have won six Cup races at the track, beginning with Texan Terry Labonte’s win in 1999 and extending to the track’s most recent winner, Jimmie Johnson, in November.
The Star-Telegram caught up with Hendrick to discuss the Hall of Fame nod, Jeff Gordon’s final season with the team and more.
What does being inducted into this Hall of Fame mean to you? It’s just so humbling. Texas is a terrific place to race, and we’ve been fortunate to have success there over the years. It’s a wonderful community with such amazing fans, and we’ve just opened our third dealership in the area, so we have quite a few friends and employees who live there. Coming to Texas is always special, and this honor means a lot.
Given the size of the market and track, does a win at Texas carry more significance too? The fans there are just unbelievable. I can remember when the track opened, it was huge for the sport. Terry [Labonte] won our first race here, and it was amazing to see the response with him being from Texas. The fans loved it, and I think Terry still says it’s his favorite win. There’s a passion for racing here, and they’ve really supported the track and everyone involved with NASCAR.
Even though one of your drivers won last fall — Jimmie Johnson — one of your guys — Jeff Gordon — had his championship dreams end at Texas. How tough was that to get over? Jeff had an incredible year, so that was certainly tough to swallow. But now it’s all about this season and giving him the best opportunity to compete for a championship. There’s no doubt he’s capable of putting together a similar run, and I know [his crew chief Alan Gustafson] and the team are motivated to send him out on top. We’re all focused on that.
What do you hope racing fans remember about Jeff? Jeff came into NASCAR as a young guy and absolutely changed the sport. To be so young and so competitive, winning races and championships, no one had ever done that. And he brought us to the forefront with Saturday Night Live, the cover of Fortune and everything else he was able to accomplish outside the race car. But I think even more than that, he’s always given back. Whether it’s his foundation or the work he does with Make-A-Wish, he’s absolutely committed. The wins, the championships, the philanthropy, and being a spokesperson and role model; there’s just no one else like him.
What’s the best way for fans to show their appreciation for Jeff? “I know where Jeff’s focus is this year, and that’s on winning races and competing for another championship. He’s talked about coming back to the tracks next year to do things with the fans, so I expect you’ll see a lot of that happening after he gets out of the car. Jeff is a special guy, and he has incredible fans who have supported him and given him so much. I know he wants to give back to them, too.
Finally, overall, what’s been the key to your team’s sustained success over the years? I believe long-term success in any business always comes down to people. It’s the same in racing as it is in our dealerships. When you have great people who are willing to work together, it’s very difficult to compete against. We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that regard. So many have contributed to Hendrick Motorsports over the years. There are a lot of fingerprints on it.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
TMS’ Hall of Fame
The track hosts its annual awards banquet Thursday night. The honorees:
Rick Hendrick, Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame. Among the most successful race car owners in history with no signs of slowing down as he continues to stockpile talent.
Darrell Waltrip, Bruton Smith Legend Award. A three-time Cup champion and Hall of Famer who is now one of the top analysts of the sport for Fox.
Jeff Gordon, Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award. The four-time Cup champion is known for his off-the-track successes just as much as his on-track ones.
Chase Elliott, Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year. The young, promising driver won his first Xfinity Series race at TMS last year, and most feel it’s just the start for one of the future faces of NASCAR.
Duck Commander, Maj. General Thomas Sadler Award. The company, which is the title sponsor of the spring race, has already helped the track raise more than $55,000 since 2014 for Speedway Children’s Charities, which benefits children in North Texas.