NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick managed to hire Dale Earnhardt Jr. prior to the 2008 season, but more than two decades earlier he came close to hiring Earnhardt’s father.
Hendrick, who spoke at Martinsville Speedway Sunday morning on the 30th anniversary of his team’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, said he nearly hired Dale Sr. on two separate occasions in the 1980s. This after a deal to hire Richard Petty with Hendrick’s start-up team fell through in 1984.
"The one guy that we were real close to putting together a deal with was Dale Earnhardt," Hendrick said. "And he shook down my first car. And then I think it was maybe about ’85, ’86 we talked again when he was looking at Ford. And so we came close with Dale. That’s the one that stands out, because he was so good."
Hendrick said he doesn’t let Petty forget that the two of them nearly had a deal, too.
We owe Martinsville so much. If we hadn’t won that race, then literally the next Monday we were going to shut it down.
"I kid Richard about how many championships he would’ve had if we’d have worked it out," Hendrick said.
Hendrick began the 1984 season with a team called All-Star Racing that was supposed to have Petty as a driver and backing from country music business mogul C.K. Spurlock. But the deal fell apart and Hendrick wound up with Geoffrey Bodine as a driver and no sponsor.
The team owner said he was just one day away from shutting down his first Sprint Cup team when Bodine won at Martinsville in April 1984, giving Hendrick’s squad its first victory and saving it from oblivion.
After a rough start to the ’84 season, Hendrick went to Bodine and crew chief Harry Hyde and told them he was going to have to close the team for lack of funding.
"We said we were probably going to have to shut the doors and wait for sponsorship," said Hendrick, who started his team with just five employees. "And you know, when you shut ’em down you very seldom ever start ’em back up."
But Hyde argued to go race Martinsville, because Bodine was so good there. So Hendrick agreed to do one more race, which Bodine won.
"We owe Martinsville so much. If we hadn’t won that race, then literally the next Monday we were going to shut it down," said Hendrick. "Getting the win here, getting the sponsor, making it through the year. We ended up winning three races that year and secured Levi Garrett (as primary sponsor) the last three or four races of the year."