What drives Hendrick Motorsports? Going behind the scenes with NASCAR's most dominant team.
By CORY McCARTNEYFS South
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. sat 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 is what they think is the secret to the organization’s success.
“Mr. Hendrick and the people he gets to make this place go.”
“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.”
At the nearby Team Center, two tour buses sat outside and a line of media piled in as part of the NASCAR Media Day 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 … 200?’”
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 one in which “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 standing 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 .
Needing to find a driver, he hired Geoff Bodine and after three top 10s in the first three races of 1984 Bodine 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 asked of everyone to sit in the seat before him.
“Hendrick Motorsports,” Gordon said. “Is driven by people and passion.”