Power to the People: Rick Hendrick is now on top of the NASCAR world

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 30: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Rick Hendrick hugs Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Metro Tech Chevrolet, celebrating Hendrick Motorsports' 269th Cup Series win, the most in NASCAR after Larson won the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Rick Hendrick has never been someone who seems to enjoy the spotlight. Sure, he’ll meet with the media, pose for pictures for sponsor obligations and such, but he’s never been one to shout, or want to grab headlines.

Instead Rick Hendrick lets others do all the headline grabbing and shouting for him.

The 71-year-old started a business empire with little more than ambition and a few bucks. He now owns car dealerships around the country, and Sunday night became the winningest car owner in NASCAR history.

Like his automotive empire, Hendrick Motorsports grew from nothing. A seed planted in the late 1970s and watered by a drag boat racing team, grew into a NASCAR team with four actual wheels on pavement.  By 1987 he had three cars in two different NASCAR series. The team won its first NASCAR race in 1984 with driver Geoff Bodine behind the wheel.

Sunday night Kyle Larson scored victory 269 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The win broke a tie with Petty Enterprises and led by NASCAR’s King, Richard Petty. That operation held the record for most wins since 1960.

“You know, we never — when we were like 200 wins, just thinking that you’re going to win 269 and beat Richard’s number, I never thought we’d get there, and then all of a sudden the momentum started and we had a good run last year and this year,” Hendrick said.

“I want to say this about Richard: He’s a class act. He has done more for the sport than anybody I know of in the sport. He’s still the same Richard to all the fans.

“I have tremendous respect for the Petty family and what they’ve accomplished. Someone will probably break my record, so it’s just — records are made to be broken. “

Now that he’s reached that once seemingly impossible zenith, Hendrick said he isn’t ready to step aside.

“I kind of grew up racing with my dad, and I raced when I was 14, and I’ve raced all my life,” he said. “That’s been — that and the automobile business, I tell everybody I’m really fortunate to be able to do the two things in life I love outside of my family, and that’s the car business and racing.

“From really humble beginnings and not having money to buy tires and riding in the back of a truck in Trenton, New Jersey, to watch a modified race to today, I was thinking out there on pit road hoping it wasn’t going to be a caution and we could get it done tonight, how fortunate I’ve been to have the talent that’s been at our organization.”

It’s that talent that Hendrick credits for all his success. The ones who shout, stand in the spotlight, and do most of the talking on the track.

“I’ve had a lot of really good drivers,” Hendrick said. ” I’ve been really blessed if you look at everybody that’s won a race with us, from Bodine to Tim Richmond to Waltrip. You can look at Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with seven championships. All of them have unique features.”

Those unique features are evident in his current stable of drivers: Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Alex Bowman.

“I think Kyle is going to win a lot of races. Chase is already a champion. I’m really excited about how William is running every single week and Alex, too,” he said the smiled.  “It’s like having a bunch of kids. You love them all the same. It’s just each one of them has different strengths and characteristics, but at the end of the day they work well together.”

Not only drivers, but all the people in the organization are important to Hendrick.

“My dad always told me your biggest asset are your folks,” he said. “You put key people together with good communication and good things will happen, and if you remember, I had a one-car team and I went to two, and everybody said, you can’t win with a two-car team, but I did it. In the automobile business you have good people, you spread them out and they got great experience, then you add another and another, and together if they communicate, they’re stronger.”

Today the Hendrick Motorsports organization is over 600 strong, and Rick Hendrick is enshrined in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Pretty good for a team that started with nothing and is now on top of the NASCAR world.

“It’s been a lot of years but a lot of just — any business you’re in, it’s all about people, getting people to work together, and I preach this to them all the time, you’ll never tear down a good organization from the outside, it’ll happen from the inside,” he said.

“We’ve stuck together through some really tough times like the crash, but we stayed together. Sometimes you have — the biggest problem I have, I have drivers retiring, Darrell Waltrip and then Dale, then Jeff, Jimmie, then you start again. You see these kids that are 14 years old and you take a shot.

“I think I’m good for the future. I think at my age I don’t have to — with the average age of 26, I think I’m set.”