- Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 April 2009 20:25
- Published on Wednesday, 01 April 2009 20:25
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With 25 years, 175 wins, and eight NASCAR Cup series titles and counting, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick knows how to mark special occasions in the sport. So how did he celebrate his first series win on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville Speedway?
Armed with several rolls of toilet paper, Hendrick and some friends set out on a road trip that Sunday night to Geoff Bodine’s home in Pleasant Grove N.C., where they redecorated Bodine’s front yard.
While victory celebrations have evolved, Hendrick Motorsports transformation from the fledgling All-Star Racing, as it was known then, to its current powerhouse status began at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks.
On that April day in 1984, Bodine led 55 laps, passing then defending-series champion Bobby Allison with 48 laps remaining to take the lead and the win. The odd part is that Rick Hendrick, a Palmer Springs, Va. native wasn’t even there. “I had promised my wife that I would go to a church service with her and I did that Sunday. I didn’t know until we got out of the church late that afternoon that we had won the race.
"I found out on the phone talking with my Mom, but I can tell you this: a couple of weeks before, we were going to have to shut the team down because we had no sponsor. You know, I told our crew chief, Harry Hyde we absolutely were going to quit two races before that. And we went on and won Martinsville and picked up enough help to make it through the year.”
Through the last 25 years, Martinsville has been the scene of some of Hendrick Motorsports biggest race triumphs. Not since the heyday of Richard Petty, who raced to victory an incredible fifteen times at the tight half mile track, has a team so dominated the circuit's oldest active track.
Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and three-time series champion, and Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champion, both excel at the famed .526 mile short track. Gordon and Johnson have combined to win ten of the last thirteen Sprint Cup events at Martinsville.
The highlight was undoubtedly their fender banging one-two finish in the spring 2007 event with Johnson narrowly beating his mentor Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag.
As much success as Hendrick Motorsports has had at Martinsville since that first win in 1984, it has also been the scene of one of the sport's greatest tragedies. Each trip to NASCAR’s popular southern Virginia track has got to be personal anguish for Rick Hendick. In 2004 he lost his son, brother, two nieces and his team’s chief engine builder when a Hendrick Motorsports plane bringing them to that weekend’s race crashed into Bull Mountain near the tiny airport that serves the Martinsville region. Ten people lost their lives in the crash.
Asked at a press conference last week, "What images go through your mind when you hear Martinsville or when you are at the track?"
Rick Hendrick replied, “It’s a really tough deal for me. It’s a track that I remember going to watch a convertible race in’63 and Rex White was a guy, I was a big Rex White fan. I got his autograph through the fence there. It was right down the street from where I went to South Boston every Saturday night with my family.
“Martinsville always has been a special place. I think we’ve won 17 races there. You can’t fly down the east coast on a clear day and not see Bull Mountain, and I can’t go up there and land on a helicopter that I don’t circle and look at the cross and think about all those folks, and during the race and after the race. It’s always an emotional time if we win the race since then. It’s just one of those bittersweet things that the Martinsville track didn’t do. It just – that’s where they were headed.
“It’s awful hard. It doesn’t get any easier, and every time it comes up, I question whether I really even want to go. And then when I start thinking about it, it’s tougher being at home than it is being there, too, because it’s just then you know you should be there with them.
“You know, but the track is so special to me. And it meant so much to my dad and my son and everybody else. I mean, we all wanted to win there, because that was home. We were from Virginia. You know, it was a piece of history. But I don’t expect it to ever be any different as the years go by.”