Behind the scenes at Hendrick Motorsports

CHARLOTTE – Tucked away in an off-limits-to-the-public building
on the sprawling Hendrick Motorsports campus which could best be
described as Rick Hendrick’s man cave, Dale Earnhardt Jr. set up in his
seat.

NASCAR’s 10-time winner of the Most Popular Driver Award
fastened the second button on a white shirt adorned with the HMS logo on
one side and sponsor National Guard on the other.

He rolled over the question for a second before answering: Hendrick Motorsports is driven by ….

“Hendrick Motorsports is driven by winning races and winning championships, strictly those two things,” Earnhardt said.

The
results have been undeniable, and as some of the most accomplished and
biggest names in the sport answered the same question as part of FOX
Sports South’s upcoming DRIVEN: Hendrick Motorsports, so too was what
they think is the secret to the organization’s success.

“Mr. Hendrick and the people he gets to make this place go.”
–Kasey Kahne

“People and passion in what they do.”
–Jeff Gordon

“The people. It’s all about the people.”
–Crew chief Kenny Francis

It
was a point driven home by Hendrick himself, the patriarch of an
organization that has won 209 Sprint Cup Series races and 10
championships.

“We say we’re driving performance together,” he said. “It’s everybody working together.”

***

In the nearby Team Center, two tour buses sat outside and a line of media piled in as part of the NASCAR Media Days tour.

Inside,
the new Chevy SS cars Hendrick’s team of Earnhardt, Gordon, Kahne and
Jimmie Johnson will debut at next month’s Daytona 500 – which will air
Feb. 24 on FOX – were displayed under a wall plastered with Hs, each one
including the date, track and driver behind the team’s victories.

“It
says I’ve been doing this a long time,” Hendrick said of the wall. “I’m
an old man, especially when I look back at the books, back to the first
one. It blows my mind when I think about ‘OK … two-hundred?’”

Hendrick
and his drivers sat on stage taking questions from the collected media,
a line of cameras lining the back of the room. They answered questions
on expectations for the 2013 season, the transition to the new Gen 6 car
and queries on hair, both facial and on their heads.

Kahne
unveiled a new haircut he described as “high and tight,” and Gordon, who
was sporting a mustache during last fall’s Chase, said of its possible
return “No, but I feel like I’m working on a mullet,” drawing laughs.

All
four Hendrick drivers qualified for the Cup series’ playoff last
season, winning a combined 10 races, including five by Johnson. But it
couldn’t deliver another title as Johnson finished third in the
standings, with Kahne fourth, Gordon 10th and Earnhardt 12th.

It
was a season Hendrick categorized as “We feel like we fumbled the ball
in the closing minutes of the game, and we want to get back to the Super
Bowl.”

As cameras flashed, Hendrick and his drivers made their
way next door, where the team’s museum and shop had been transformed for
Media Day, with each driver, crew chief and Hendrick himself stood in a
booth before crowds of reporters.

***

Back
at Hendrick’s private quarters he settled into his seat wearing a black
fleece vest embroidered with the years of each of his Cup
championships.

He detailed his transition from boat racing to
stock cars as Hendrick left the water following the death of his good
friend Jimmy Wright in a boat racing accident in 1981. Looking for a
place to store his boats he rented space from retired crew chief Harry
Hyde.

Approached to be part of a group that would include Kenny
Rogers, his tour manager C.K. Spurlock and have Richard Petty behind the
wheel, Hendrick jumped in. But when the deal fell apart, he was left
with five employees and a racecar.

Needing to find a driver he
hired Geoff Bodine and after three top 10s in the first three races of
1984 he broke through with Hendrick’s first win at Martinsville.

“The
rest is history,” Hendrick said. “I look back and it’s been 30 years.
When I think about 30 years, that seems like an awful long time, but
it’s all mine and I’ve earned it.”

From those humble beginnings,
Hendrick has forged a dynasty. His company has gone from five employees
to 550 and produced its first title with Gordon in ’95, starting a
string of four straight (three by Gordon and one by Terry Labonte) and
then five in a row with Johnson from ’06-’10.

As Hendrick left
the interview he passed by Gordon, exchanging a few words and laughs
before the driver who helped solidify HMS’ place atop the sport took his
seat.

The senior-most driver on the roster, like the newest in
Kahne, didn’t hesitate when asked the question everyone to sit in the
seat before him was asked.

“Hendrick Motorsports,” Gordon said. “Is driven by people and passion.”