Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will induct the 2017 class, which will feature Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons.
Earlier this week, Childress, Hendrick and Martin spoke on a NASCAR teleconference. Following are some things we learned about racing and about life from the three.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesTom Pennington
Team owner Richard Childress and his driver, the late Dale Earnhardt, set lofty goals. “When Dale and I would talk about the next championship, we never talked about eight, we talked about nine or 10,” said Childress. “And I’m sure Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) are doing the same thing today. They’re not just looking at their eighth championship, they’re looking at nine or 10. And that’s what Dale and I concentrated on.”
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All in the family
Rick Hendrick has had a lot of great moments — 12 championships in what his now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 245 race victories and whole host of wins in NASCAR’s big events like the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. But his proudest moment came in 2001, when his late son, Ricky, won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway.
“The championships and the Daytona wins all were special and emotional,” Hendrick said. “But when my son won the inaugural truck race at Kansas, my wife and I both broke down with him, because it was such a special moment. … That would be the one sentimentally or emotionally I’ll always treasure.”
In addition to his success in NASCAR, Mark Martin won five IROC championships and four ASA National Tour Series titles. Martin won his first three ASA championships from 1980-82, but unfortunately, the hardware is long gone.
“The older the memorabilia is, the more special it is,” said Martin. “When I got married to Arlene in 1984, we moved seven times in the first five years we were married. And about the third time or fourth time we moved, I threw every ASA trophy I owned in a dumpster. So I don’t have anything pre-NASCAR to speak of.”
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The early days
Team owner Rick Hendrick, like every racer, started off small. And he hasn’t forgotten what it was like in the beginning.
“I remember the first time I got a sponsor check, I showed it to my dad,” said Hendrick. “And he said, ‘Can you believe that there’s somebody who’s paying you to race?’ … People didn’t realize how poor we were and how we didn’t have money for tires.”
Before he was an owner alone, Richard Childress was an owner/driver. And that experience was invaluable when he hired Ricky Rudd to drive his car in 1982.
“Ricky was an up-and-coming driver and I think we both helped each other a whole lot,” said Childress. “He helped me as a car owner and I think we helped him as a driver, being able to talk to him with the past driving experience I had.”
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Mark Martin didn’t stick has a NASCAR driver in his first go-round in the mid-1980s. And the early struggles he endured make him appreciate his subsequent success that much more.
“I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career all over again, so I would say the perseverance, if you wanted to sum it up in one word,” said Martin when asked what he was most proud of. “I think that going back and starting my career all over again from scratch and building my way back to a second chance — that’s probably the biggest thing. And second to that is what I did in the IROC series.”
Calming down rivalries
When the on-track contact between Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine got out of hand, NASCAR boss Bill France Jr. summoned the two drivers and their respective car owners, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick to Daytona for a meeting to put an end to the hostilities.
The two owners made a pact to not let the rivalry impact them. “We’ll do our best to keep ‘em straightened out, but you just can’t do but so much when a driver and his emotions take over,” said Childress.
“What I know about Richard Childress is, if you treat him with respect, he’s going to treat you with respect,” said Hendrick. “We got to be friends and we understood each other.”
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Mark Martin expects the induction ceremony to be highly emotional. “Terribly nervous, terribly nervous,” is how Martin described what his mood likely will be. “I’m trying to not think about it a whole lot and I’m going to not put a whole, whole, whole lot of pressure on myself to try to capitalize and maximize on my one last chance to say thank you to the people who made it happen for me.”
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Learning from experience
Team owner Rick Hendrick said that early on, his cars were fast but didn’t always go the distance. He watched and learned from Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt, the dominant owner-driver combo from the mid-1980s until the mid-90s.
“He (Childress) and Dale Earnhardt — they were the standard,” said Hendrick “When I first started, I didn’t think anybody would ever beat ‘em. I thought they were just basically unbeatable. … You watch the guy who sets the standards and you learn.”
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Rick Hendrick said one of the toughest parts of his acceptance speech will be that he wont be able to thank everyone who helped him along the way, and there have been many.
“I won’t be able to mention any names. I feel like I’m accepting this award for a lot of people,” said Hendrick. “For a multitude of people — not just for 30-some years that I’ve been in NASCAR. … I go all the way back to my roots. I could stand up there for a day and a half and talk. I know I’ve got about 6 minutes. So I’m going to be nervous.”